Frequently Asked Questions
The Oral History Archives at Columbia (OHAC), house 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do I need to make an appointment?
No appointment is necessary to visit the Oral History Archives at Columbia.
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 onsite. This is usually indicated in the oral history's CLIO record, but please contact OHAC in advance of your visit to confirm that an interview is onsite. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library requires at least five business days advance notice for ordering materials from offsite.
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 email@example.com, as the restrictions may have expired.
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 10,000 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 OHAC directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 (PDF, Word), select desired format, sign the form, and return it to email@example.com. An archivist will be in touch to confirm allowable reproduction format, provide a price quote, and arrange payment.
Digital Reproduction Policies
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.
The archives will only provide a digital reproduction if Columbia holds copyright, holds a license to reproduce the interview, or if the interview is in public domain.
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.
Photocopy Reproduction Policies
The Oral History Archives follows the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s standard pricing and policies for photocopies. Paper photocopies are priced on a per page basis. More information can be found here.
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’ 10,000 interviews is an ongoing process.
Fees for analog-to-digital conversion start out at $75 per original media item for non-Columbia-affiliated patrons (e.g. digitization of an interview with one audio cassette = $75, digitization of an interview with two audio cassettes = $150). See here for more information on fee structures. Digitization orders are overseen by the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division. Please note that fees are collected in advance.
For interviews that have previously been digitized, fees consist of a $15 set-up charge plus $1 per digital file (e.g. an interview comprised of 10 mp3 files would cost $25; $1 x 10 + $15)..
If you are interested in ordering audio or video of an interview:
An archivist will contact you with a quote for digitization based on the digitization status, number of media carriers, and/or number of digital files and will make arrangements for payment.
Digitization is done through an outside vendor and may take up to 8 weeks to complete.
When digitization is completed, you will be contacted by the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division. Files are mp3s by default and are shared via Google Drive. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org at least two business days in advance of your visit to confirm that digital files are available and ensure that there is time to set up a laptop listening station for your use.
Are any oral history collections available online?
How do I cite an oral history?
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.
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.
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 written permission from the Columbia Center for Oral History Archives. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials.
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?
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.
Then you have permission to read the transcript in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's Reading Room and you do not need to contact the Oral History Archives at Columbia in advance of your visit.
If the CLIO record says Restrictions are:
Access: Written permission required from interviewer.
Access: Written permission required from interviewee.
Then please contact OHAC in advance of your visit.
The vast majority of the interviews in OHAC are open for research. If you would like to view a closed interview, please contact email@example.com, as the restrictions may have expired.
How can I learn more about oral history?
You will find a research guide that includes guidelines for conducting oral histories and other resources here.
The Columbia Center for Oral History Research, housed at INCITE, has many resources to share including research guides, video tutorials, and a bibliography. Please see CCOHR Resources and Education Intitiatives.
The Columbia Center for Oral History Workshop Series is a series of public seminars on the wide range of issues raised by a consideration of how oral history methodologies impact disciplines in the social sciences as well as the humanities. All workshops are free and open to the public. The workshops are also available via YouTube.