Frequently Asked Questions
The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC), housed in the the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, is open to all.
You do not need to be affiliated with Columbia University in order to visit the archives and/or use the oral history collections.
For more information on visiting OHAC in person, please see these instructions to Plan Your Visit.
If your question is not answered there, please contact us via email.
Do I need to make an appointment?
No appointment is necessary to visit the Oral History Archives at Columbia.
You can request oral history interviews to use in our reading room by creating a Special Researcher Account
If the catalog record says that an interview you would like to see is either "Closed" or "Permission Required to See," please contact the archives in advance of your visit. These restrictions likely have expired, but if they are in effect, the interview will be inaccessible.
Most interviews are stored on campus. This is usually indicated in the oral history's CLIO record, but please contact us in advance of your visit to confirm that an interview can be used in our reading room. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library requires at least five business days advance notice for ordering materials from off-campus storage.
How do I search or browse the oral history archives?
Please begin by exploring the Oral History Portal.
When you have found an oral history interview that interests you, please click the link to view the Full CLIO record.
The CLIO record will include information about Restrictions and whether or not this interview is open to researchers.
To protect narrators' privacy while also ensuring that their oral history be preserved for the historical record, some oral history interviews in our collections may be restricted i.e. closed for an agreed-upon number of years, or for their lifetime, or they may require written permission from the narrator of interviewer before allowing a researcher to see or hear an interview.
The vast majority of the interviews in the Oral History Archives at Columbia are open for research. If you would like to view a closed interview, please contact us, as the restrictions may have expired or you may be able to contact the copright holder directly for access.
Can I listen to or view interviews?
When you request an oral history at the Oral History Archives at Columbia, you will be provided with the transcript.
OHAC is working to provide greater access to the audio/video in our collections online, in addition to the transcripts. We encourage researchers to listen to the audio/video when available, because meaning can be lost when the orality of an interview is translated into text. For more on how to use oral history collections, see Guidelines for Researchers.
We appreciate your patience as we undertake digitizing many of the thousands of interviews from their original analog formats (reels, audio cassettes, etc.) and as we improve catalog information to indicate when digital audio/video is available.
In this time of transition, the easiest way to find out about the accessibility of audio/video is to contact us directly.
Can I take photographs of transcripts?
Yes, patrons viewing transcripts in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Reading Room are allowed to take digital photographs of the transcript in order to supplement and assist their note-taking. There are many decent scanner apps for Android and iOS phones available.
These photographs must be used for personal research use only and cannot be shared, distributed, or published in any way.
Can I obtain a digital reproduction or photocopies of a transcript to support my research?
The ability of the archives to reproduce transcripts for private research varies across the collections on an interview-by-interview basis. Ability to reproduce and allowable reproduction format is dependent on contractual obligations to narrators and copyright law.
To begin a reproduction request, please fill out this form (Word, PDF) and return it to us via email. A staff member will be in touch to confirm allowable reproduction format, provide a price quote, and let you know where to call to arrange payment.
Digital Reproduction Policies
In an ideal world, we would like nothing more than to publish oral history transcripts online. However, as responsible stewards of these materials and narrators’ life stories, we are bound by legal, contractual and ethical obligations spanning the seventy-year history of the oral history archives.
When possible, we are happy to facilitate your research in-person and remotely. To that end, here’s information about the provision of digital reproductions.
- There is a $30 flat-rate scanning fee for all transcripts up to 650 pages ($15 for previously-scanned transcripts).
- Transcript will be delivered by email as a PDF attachment or WeTransfer, depending on file size.
- If you require a paper transcript, you will need to order an digital transcript from us and print the paper transcript via your home, work or commercial printer.
- The archive will only provide a digital reproduction if the interview the interview has no access restrictions ("Access: Open." in catalog) and meets one of four criteria.
- These four criteria are: Columbia holds copyright, Columbia holds a license to reproduce the interview, the interview is in public domain, or the interview pre-dates 1978.
- Open interviews not meeting these criteria are only available in the reading room at this time.
- Archives staff will confirm interview status and reproduction options upon completion of the order form.
- Requests are limited to three interviews at a time.
- Transcript requests over 650 pages will be sent to the libraries’ Preservation and Digital Conversion Division for digitization, and their reformatting rates will apply.
Can I listen to or watch analog recordings (reels, audio cassettes, video cassettes, etc.)?
Analog media cannot be accessed until it has been digitized for preservation. The digitization of the archives’ thousands of interviews is an ongoing process.
Digitization orders are overseen by the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division. Please note that fees are collected in advance.
If you are interested in ordering audio or video of an interview:
Complete and sign these three forms:
- the General Conditions of Service Form (PDF),
Email your completed forms to us.
A staff member will contact you with a quote for digitization based on the digitization status, number of media items (e.g. two cassettes, one reel), or number of digital files and will make arrangements for payment.
Digitization is completed through an outside vendor and may take up to 8 weeks to complete. We do not have "rush" or "urgent" status nor do we put patrons in contact with our external vendor.
When digitization is completed, the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division will be contacted you. Files are mp3s by default and are shared via electronic delivery. Please let the archives know in advance if you require another file type or a DVD copy (additional fees apply for DVD copies).
If you would like to listen to audio or view interview video in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room, please contact the archives in advance of your visit for more information about availability.
Can I access born-digital and previously-digitized audio or video of interviews in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room?
Yes, if you would like to access audiovisual files for an interview that was created in a digital format or has previously been digitized, you can do so free of charge in the RBML reading room.
Please email us at least 48 hours in advance of your visit to confirm that digital files are available and ensure that there is time to set up a network-secured laptop for your use.
Are any oral history collections available online?
Yes, please see the Oral History Archives' Digital Projects.We are in the midst of upgrading our online publication and streaming capabilities. Some projects may have only transcripts available online for the time being.
How do I cite an oral history?
Suggested generic oral history transcript citation
Oral History interview with _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of _______________ (year of the interview), Collection or Project Title (when applicable), pages ________, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Oral History interview with David Norman Dinkins (2014), Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of Frances Perkins (1955), pages 44 - 64, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reminiscences of Rex G. White (1951), pages 17 - 19, Radio Pioneers Project, Oral History Archives at Columbia, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.
APA Style Guide
King, Susan. 2011, December 13 and 2013, August 30. Interview by Mary Marshall Clark. Digital recording. Carnegie Digital Past and Future Project. Oral History Archives at Columbia. Columbia University in the City of New York.
Chicago Manual of Style
King, Susan. Interview by Mary Marshall Clark. December 13, 2013 and August 30, 2013. Carnegie Digital Past and Future Project. Oral History Archives at Columbia, Columbia University in the City of New York.
MLA Style Guide
King, Susan. Oral history interview. By Mary Marshall Clark. December 13, 2013 and August 30, 2013.
Do I need permission to cite or quote an oral history?
The Oral History Archives welcomes personal, educational, and non-commercial use that qualifies as fair use (see CUL Fair Use Checklist) to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to The Columbia Center for Oral History Archives.
The catalog record for many oral histories says “Permission required to cite and quote.” However, permission is not required for non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use. Scholarship is non-commerical use.
For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, quotation, publication, and broadcast in any medium, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain permission from the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials.
Note that often "library time" often doesn't match up with media's tight deadlines or short turnaround time. Digitization is completed through an outside vendor and may take up to 8 weeks to complete.
If you have a copyright concern, please see the Columbia University Libraries' instructions for bringing copyright violations to our attention.
For more on how to use oral history collections, see Guidelines for Researchers.
How can I tell if an oral history is open to researchers?
The vast majority of the interviews in OHAC are open for research.
If the CLIO record says Restrictions are...
Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.
Copyright by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, 1972. Permission required to cite, quote, and reproduce. Contact repository for information.
...you have permission to read the transcript in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Reading Room and you do not need to contact us in advance of your visit.
If the CLIO record says Restrictions are...
Access: Written permission required from interviewer.
Access: Written permission required from interviewee.
...please contact us in advance of your visit. We can check whether the restrictions have expired or give you contact information for the copyright holder to request access permission.
How can I learn more about oral history?
Check out our research guide which includes advise for using the collections and conducting oral history interviews.