Guidelines for Researchers


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The Oral History Archives is known for taking great care in providing researchers with equitable access to the collections while respecting narrators' privacy needs. Oral history interviews can contain sensitive information and researchers are advised to handle this material with care and respect.

Read more about the founding of the Columbia Center for Oral History.

For more information on the values and ethics guiding oral history research please see the Oral History Association’s Principles and Best Practices.  

For more information on the values and ethics guiding archiving, please see the Society of American Archivists’ Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics.

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:

  • a description of the interview's topics covered
  • the number of pages (formerly called "leaves') in the transcript
  • if audio is available, the format (tape, reel, digital recording) and
  • information about restrictions and whether or not this interview is open to researchers.

You can request oral history interviews to use in our reading room by creating a Special Researcher Account.

VIEWING TRANSCRIPTS AND LISTENING TO AUDIO

The vast majority of the interviews in the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives 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 need to contact the copyright holder for permission to view the interview. 

If analog audio (tape, reel) is listed, and you'd like to hear it, it will need to be digitally reformatted. 

If the audio is an already existing digital recording, we require at least 48 hours notice. You can make your request via your Special Researcher Account and note that you'd like to listen to audio in the reading room. The audio will then be uploaded to a network-secured laptop for your use in the reading room.

Transcript vs. Voice

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. Tone, volume, inflections, pauses, and subtleties of timing and emotion; as well as accents, dialects, and vernacular speech, may not be represented in the transcript.  

Most transcripts at the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives were edited for readability and do not contain interjections ("ums," "ahs," "ers"), false starts, verbal stumbles, verbal filler (“like,” “you know”), grammatical errors, or misspeaks that are common in conversation. Prior to the 1980s, transcripts were edited even more thoroughly to create “oral autobiographies” and these transcripts may vary greatly from the original recordings.

Unless verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from an oral history, please quote from the transcript.

Or in cases when the transcript does not exist, please edit the quotation for the standards of print while remaining faithful to the narrator’s meaning and speech patterns.

Access & Use

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 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 need to contact the copyright holder directly for permission to use view and/or request a copy of the transcript. 

 

Permission to Cite and Quote

The Oral History Archives Columbia welcomes personal, educational, and noncommercial 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 Oral History Archives at Columbia.

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.

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 written permission from the Oral History Archives at Columbia. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. Please contact us.

 

CITATION FORMAT

The suggested form of citation is:

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.

OR

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.

Examples:

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.

 

DESIGNING & CONDUCTING ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS

You will find advise for using our oral history collections in our research guide. While we do not offer instruction in how to conduct oral history interviews, our research guide provides instructive links and resources.

The Columbia Center for Oral History Research has many resources to share including research guides, video tutorials, and a bibliography. Please see CCOHR Resources and Education Initiatives.