The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC), housed in the the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
For Fall 2020, the RBML reading room is open on a very limited basis, by appointment only to current Columbia affiliates (students, faculty and staff) whose research requires consulting RBML materials. For more information, please contact us via email for a reference consultation.
Unaffiliated visitors are not permitted in Columbia University buildings at this time.
We have a number of newly digitized interviews in the Columbia University Libraries' Digital Library Collection. OHAC reference staff will be able to inform you about the availability of specific interviews or collections.
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.
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.
Can I listen to or view interviews?
The Oral History Archives at Columbia typically provides transcripts for research use.
We work with the Libraries' Preservation and Digital Library & Scholarly Technologies Departments to provide greater access to the audio/video in our digital collections.
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 obtain a digital reproduction of a transcript to support my research?
Digital Reproduction Policies
As responsible stewards of decades of oral histories and narrators’ life stories, we are bound by legal, contractual and ethical obligations spanning the seventy-year history of the oral history archive. Many, but not all, materials are publishable online or available for reproduction.
- Requests are limited to:
- up to three interviews for transcripts.
- transcripts under 650 pages. Transcripts over that limit are unavailable for reproduction at this time.
- Fees are waived for a one-time request during Columbia's partial COVID re-open.
- Transcript will be delivered electronially. If you require a paper transcript, you will need to order a 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:
- Columbia holds copyright,
- Columbia holds a license to reproduce the interview,
- the interview is in public domain,
- or the interview pre-dates 1978.
Interviews not meeting these criteria are only available in the reading room to Columbia affiliates, by appointment at this time.
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.
Digitization orders and on-site listening/viewing are suspended for the duration of COVID-related limited capacity.
We currently have a large-scale, Mellon Foundation-funded digitization project underway. Through this grant, newly available oral history interviews are added to the Digital Library Collection regularly.
Are any oral history collections available online?
Yes, an increasing number of oral history interviews and collections, if permitted by ethical and legal agreements, are available in the Digital Library Collection virtual reading room.
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.
Does Columbia provide transcription software or services?
Neither Columbia University Libraries nor its IT services provide transcription software for interviews.
There are a number of different online tools that will assist with transcription, as well as commercial services searchable online. We do not recommend a particular commerical or for-profit service, though oTranscribe is an open-source tool to explore.
You can read more about the transcription process from Linda Shopes' article, "Transcribing Oral History in the Digital Age."
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.