An Archive Approach to Oral History

An Archive Approach to Oral History

IASA Special Publication No. 1

by David Lance
Keeper of the Department of Sound Records,
Imperial War Museum London
in association with
International Association of Sound Archives
Association Internationale d' Archives Sonores
Internationale Vereinigung der Schallarchive.

Published 1978

IASA Members may also download a free PDF version. If you are not a Member, why not join IASA?

Table of contents


Foreword by the Director of the Imperial War Museum,
Dr Noble Frankland CBE DFC

The Imperial War Museum exists to illustrate and record all aspects of modern warfare and collects every type of material bearing on this subject. These have included, since the Museum's foundation in 1917, films, photographs, documents, books, and works of art as well as weapons, uniforms, medals, equipment and other three-dimensional objects. Recently the development of sound recording and of oral history techniques has added a new dimension to this range of materials and one that is especially important to the Imperial War Museum. For it is now possible to secure permanent records of those servicemen and women and civilians who, for lack of inclination, opportunity, or literary skill, will leave no written records for the historians of the future to study. The participants in great historical events may be questioned about them and their experiences and opinions recorded in their own voices. Sound recording also adds to the range of different ways in which the public is able to gain access to the Museum's collections by using sound in exhibitions and in educational activities, through audio publications, and by contributing recordings to radio programmes - two programmes, Icarus with an Oilcan and The Loneliest Men have been compiled by the Museum's staff and broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Since 1977 the sound archive has been open to the public and copies of tapes offered for purchase. The Museum's Department of Sound Records, its newest collecting Department, was founded in January 1972. The Keeper, Mr David Lance, is also Secretary of the International Association of Sound Archives with which the Museum is pleased to be associated in publishing this guide to oral history technique.

Noble Frankland
Imperial War Museum
9th February 1978


Foreword by the President of the International Association of Sound Archives, Dr Dietrich Schüller

The International Association of Sound Archives was established in 1969. It exists to represent, focus and develop the work and interests of institutions and individuals professionally involved in the collection, preservation and dissemination of documents of recorded sound. Since its creation IASA has drawn together members associated with archives of music recordings; historical, literary and dramatic recordings; bio-acoustic and medical sounds; recorded language and dialect surveys; folklife and ethnological recordings; and many broadcasting organisations. The practice of oral history, which has developed with remarkable speed during the past two decades, has resulted in the creation of an important new category of sound archive that is now well represented within IASA. This work by David Lance is welcome as a useful source of practical information for all who are concerned with oral history and, particularly, with oral history sound archives. It is the first in a series of specialist publications which IASA hopes to sponsor. In making this publication possible the International Association of Sound Archives is glad to acknowledge the burden of authorship, preparation and printing which has been carried by the Imperial War Museum.

Dietrich Schüller
Phonogrammarchiv der Osterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
13th January 1978


Preface and Acknowledgments

This publication is based on my experience of setting up and developing the oral history programme at the Imperial War Museum. Like some similar works it reflects the specialised interests and particular purposes of one institution. These cannot be directly relevant or applicable in all respects to the great variety of organisations and individuals in the field, many of whose interests and emphases are differently placed. It does, however, cover much ground and many problems which are common to all oral historians and provides a focus which is in some respects distinct from earlier comparable works.

I was initially motivated by Dr Rolf Schuursma - Editor of the Phonographic Bulletin (Journal of the International Association of Sound Archives) - to write An Archive Approach to Oral History. The interest of lASA in this field of activity exists for two reasons. First, because a growing number of the Association's member archives are creating and acquiring oral history recordings. Secondly, because IASA - as an association of professional sound archivists - is concerned that the substantial growth of interest in oral history should be accompanied by a corresponding degree of understanding about the importance and qualities of the resultant sound documents. This concern accounts for the space and emphasis given to technical matters in this publication.

The fact that this work appears as a publication sponsored jointly by IASA and the Imperial War Museum, is due to the interest and encouragement of Dr Christopher Roads (Deputy Director of the Museum) who was primarily responsible for the initiative which led to the estab1ishment of the recording programme on which An Archive Approach to Oral History is based. It complements other publications which have come from the Museum and reflects the institution's longstanding efforts to encourage a multi-media approach to historical research.

While accepting full responsibility for the content of this publication, I should like to thank Roger Smither who, with Laura Kamel, wrote Chapter 7 on cataloguing and indexing. The technical sections could not have been compiled in their present form without the expert knowledge and contribution of Lloyd Stickells. Directly or indirectly, the influence of these and other Museum colleagues has also contributed to many of the practices described in the text. Margaret Brooks has played an important part in the development of our methods and Fiona Campbell helped to compile the bibliography.

David Lance
Keeper of the Department of Sound Records
Imperial War Museum
November 1977

1. Introduction

Before preparing this booklet on the practice of oral history, I seriously considered whether there was any need which could justify my adding yet another such publication to the already substantial and rapidly growing body of literature on oral history. Whether it does meet any need will only become known after the circulation of the work. There did, however, seem justification for such a publication as this.

A major justification is that all comparable existing texts are of American provenance. Those publications - among which the works of Willa Baum and William Moss are perhaps the best known1 - reflect oral history's mode of development in North America. There, the main preoccupation has been 'to obtain, from the lips of living Americans who have led significant lives, a fuller record of their participation ... in political, economic and cultural life.'2 By contrast the oral historian in Britain has very largely been concerned with the social history of urban and rural working class groups and communities: 'He moves among the generality of the population, noting and recording prejudices and reactions ... to garner human experience in all its richness'. 3 Different principles have produced different practices and some of these will be reflected in the following pages.

Thus, this work is intended as a practical reference source for those to whom the British experience may be more appropriate than the American model and - for more general interest - simply as a counterpoint to the other comparable publications available in this field.

This manual has also been compiled as a step towards the codification of disciplines which are of particular relevance to museums, libraries, archives and other collecting centres. One feature of oral history in Britain is that much of the important early work and nearly all of the published literature has been produced by university historians whose main concern has been with their own research and publication. As a result the bulk of the published commentaries have focused on those aspects of oral history that most naturally interest academic historians such as, for example, research methodology and the evaluation of oral evidence. With the growing involvement of libraries and archives (whether through the establishment of creative recording programmes or by way of receiving recordings and transcripts which others have produced), it is opportune to provide a publication that may be of practical value to collecting institutions which have to come to terms with the specialised housekeeping problems which apply to oral history materials.

So An Archive Approach to Oral History provides a body of professional method for oral history librarians and archivists. The practices which have been developed in my Department during the past six years may help to set standards and provide conventions which can eventually be developed into a code of professional practice of the kind which has been long established for the administration of traditional records.

A third consideration, in addition to the national and institutional factors, contributed to the compilation of this work. The importance which my Department attaches to the medium of recorded sound has fundamentally influenced many of the methods we have developed. This emphasis is not typical. In North America methods are - with important exceptions4 - still generally orientated to the production of the oral history transcript, which is widely held to be the product to which recording programmes should be geared. In Britain, the domination of the transcript is not nearly so strong but technical standards and knowledge here are also generally and unnecessarily low. Many individual practitioners and collecting centres are conscious that well-recorded oral history interviews have particular qualities and applications which can be exploited in various interesting and valuable ways. For those, whose main concern is the creation and administration of oral history sound recordings, this publication may be more useful than other works whose emphases have been differently placed.

Several sections of this manual are based on papers originally drawn up as working procedures for my Department. When the Department began its oral history programme in 1972 there were very few established professional practices sufficiently well suited to our needs to warrant imitation. 5 In nearly all cases, therefore, we designed and developed our own procedures, frequently revising and refining them in the light of growing experience and not a few false starts. The methods described in the following pages have stood up fairly well to the test of ten major recording projects in such varied fields as military, naval, air, industrial, agricultural, medical, welfare and art history. They are consistently applied in an archive which now holds more than three thousand recorded hours of material.

The theory of oral history has not yet been formed into a generally accepted orthodoxy. Perhaps it never should. Most authors in the field, however, make some attempt at definition and evaluation of oral history, and the present writer is also unable to resist the same temptation. A simple and probably uncontroversial definition is that oral history is formed from the personal reminiscences of people who were participants in or witnesses of the events or experiences they recount and - by present conventions - information which is obtained by interviewing methods and recorded verbatim by one means or another (though in practice now almost invariably on magnetic tape). Beyond this functional definition there are a number of differences of emphasis. For some practitioners oral history must be research directed; for others it must be archivally focused, in the sense of collecting generally whatever information informants may have to offer; some oral historians see the value of the information recorded as directly related to its proximity in time to the events covered; while others hold to the belief that the oral tradition communicates accurate and valid data across decades or even centuries. Such differences illustrate the range of approach and account for varying definitions.

Having briefly considered the method, what of the material? What is the status of oral history records and wherein lies their value among the various other classes of historical source materials? It will be argued that oral history records provide three major categories of information, which can be described as sensory, complementary and original. The concept of sensory information may not be recognised or considered as a characteristic of historical documentation (except perhaps by the media), but the oral qualities contained in sound recordings have their own special value and it is one which is distinct from the communication capabilities of any other record form. In this respect the essence of the information is in the medium which carries it, as well as in the information itself. Oral history's ability to affect the feelings as well as the intellect, gives an essentially human underlining to the facts that the recording also conveys. The value of such sensory information may be measured in relation to the degree of additional understanding of historical experience that the oral history record imparts. Above and beyond what can be discovered from other sources about the same experience, recorded sound carries its own unique dimension of information.

Oral history records are also of value in that they can be created and used to complement other record sources. In the field of biographical research, for example, historical gaps of interest and importance are frequently found which can be filled by using oral history methods to create records which otherwise could not be made available. Similarly, when research otherwise might have to be confined to using administrative documents, the personal and anecdotal characteristics of recorded interviews can provide flesh for the sometimes arid bones of history. In this respect it is apposite to quote a former Keeper of the Public Records who, in a similar connection, identified as limitations of Cabinet Office records that they are 'deliberately prepared objectively and impersonally, and designed to record agreement and not promote controversy; [but] behind many of the decisions [lie] tensions and influences which are not reflected in the official records'.6 The value of personal testimony for amplifying such records has been assessed by one of the outstanding historical writers of the 20th century in the following terms: '[history should be] tested by the personal witness of those who took part in the crises and critical discussions ... The more that any writer of history has himself been ... in contact with the makers, the more does he come to see that a history based solely on formal documents is essentially superficial'. 7

The third contribution of oral history is that it can open fields which otherwise would be closed to historians and, in this respect, provide information which is original in character for distinct subject areas. For studying many social and occupational groups which do not leave written records of their lives and work, oral history is a fundamental and sometimes the only tool. In terms of historical research, it is in this area that oral history can make its most substantial contribution.

For further information an important assessment of the value of oral evidence is available in various books by George Ewart Evans 8 and a continuing dialogue on oral history research methods can be found in Oral History. 9 Further definitions of oral history, assessments or oral evidence and aspects of methodology can be found in the publications listed in Chapter 13.

  1. Baum, W. Oral history for the local historical society; Nashville, Tennessee: American Association for State and Local History; 1969.
    Moss, W. Oral history program manual; New York: Praeger Publishers; 1974.
  2. Nevins, A. The gateway to history; New York: D. Appleton-Century; 1938.
  3. Marshall, J. 'The sense of place, past society and the oral historian' in Oral history, Vol. 3, No. I; 1975, p. 23.
  4. The Public Archives of Canada and the Provincial Archives of British Columbia are among the important exceptions to this rule.
  5. The School of Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh) and the Welsh Folk Museum were two centres which provided inspiration if not - by virtue of their subject fields - practices directly suitable for emulation.
  6. Wilson, S.S. The Cabinet Office to 1945; London: H.M. Stationery Office; 1975,p.4.
  7. Liddell Hart, B.H. The real war; London: Faber and Faber; 1930, p. 10.
  8. Evans,G. Where beards wag all; London: Faberand Faber; 1970.
    Evans, G. The days that we have seen; London: Faber and Faber; 1975.
  9. Oral History is the journal of the British Oral History Society; for subscription and membership details contact Mary Girling, Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex, England.

2. General principles

Oral history recording is practised in varied institutional settings. In libraries and archives oral historians have particular problems which are not shared by many of their university colleagues. Partly these problems arise owing to the novelty of the creative function , which is in contrast to the traditional collecting role of these centres. There are, however, more important and less transient difficulties than this. First, the subject range of collecting centres can be extremely wide. Broad based recording programmes require a correspondingly varied range of historical expertise that is rarely found in a single institution, let alone a single historian. Secondly, unlike the majority of university projects -which may be personal to a particular historian or funded by limited and short term budgets -institutional programmes will tend to be ongoing. Thus the primary problem and challenge for libraries and archives lies in sustaining a large number and a wide variety of well designed recording projects.

In responding to this challenge, oral historians in libraries and archives should recognise both their strengths and their weaknesses. Among their foremost strengths will be a detailed knowledge of what printed and documentary records are available in their collecting fields. The absence of traditional records will itself suggest the kinds of recording projects which should either be set up or at least investigated. There are usually well established communications between libraries and archives which can be used to establish whether such gaps in historical records are absolute, as opposed to being merely deficiencies in a particular collecting institution.

However, the records of most historical fields are deficient in some respects. While absolute gaps provide obvious paths to pursue, projects can also be based -even in well documented fields -on what the records do not tell historians. In the evaluation of existing record groups the training and experience of library and archive staff will be valuable and relevant.

So topic selection, the key to any soundly based recording programme, is a function which collecting centres are usually well qualified to carry out. However, the professional experience of librarians and archivists may have prepared them less well for the need to define objectives and otherwise prepare their selected projects Oil the basis of the most recent scholarship. Historians responsible for broadly based recording programmes in collecting centres seldom have the opportunity to develop their subject knowledge to a sophisticated degree in very many fields. So, even if they have considerable research experience, collaboration with appropriate subject specialists is probably the most prudent and an always valuable recourse in preparing any project.

Project preparation within professional collecting institutions should, however, take into account more than research criteria. Collecting centres do not exist solely for research. In a great many cases their main function is broadly educational and their main users the educated general public. Collecting and presenting materials as they are for non-specialists, their recording projects should also relate to the wide variety of interests which they exist to serve. Those who consider oral history to be purely a research method sometimes find it difficult to reconcile the function of reflecting the past with that of uncovering it. However, oral history does permit the pursuance of both ends without one necessarily damaging the other. The aim of oral historians in libraries and archives must be to ensure that their work actually does achieve this.

For the purpose of oral history recording the contradistinction between research and education arises because projects can be geared more towards one end than the other. Many collecting centres could validly organise their recording work on rather general subject lines, with the deliberate aim of producing material which will have the widest possible educational application. This would provide little original information. It can be argued, however, that very narrow research projects -of great value to a small number of scholars -may be of little practical value and use for the many other users whom libraries, archives and museums serve. On the other hand, not to raise with informants questions which might provide scholars with otherwise unrecorded information would be to miss important and perhaps unrecoverable opportunities for posterity.

If collecting centres are not to give the needs of one group of their users priority, where then are they to strike the balance? This can only be achieved by developing an approach to oral history which combines depth and breadth. The careful selection of project subjects in areas where oral evidence can make a significant contribution to historical documentation is essential. But while seeking to record original information, the approach should not be so esoteric as to preclude opportunities for collecting sound recordings which have a more broadly educational potential. In practical terms this means interviewing in a flexible way. We should not confine ourselves to investigating only prescribed research themes. Within the general subject area of the project, information should be recorded about any interesting events or activities which the informant participated in or witnessed.

The case for recording in breadth as well as in depth may also be made by contrasting oral history in the universities with recording projects in collecting institutions. University historians are generally using recording techniques in specialised fields of personal academic interest, as a means of collecting information primarily for _their own use. Libraries and archives rarely acquire materials with any comparably specific ends in mind. So, in the range of their recording, they should be able to adopt a more flexible approach. This practice is not only possible but politic. Experience administrators of any kind of reference collection know that public and research interests change. As libraries and archives are collecting for future as well as present generations, they should not be over influenced by current fashions.

The need for breadth and depth in collecting institutions is accompanied by a need for the known as well as the novel. Personal reminiscences which represent the common experience have a permanent value in the process of acquiring a real sense of history. Even when they add little to our knowledge of the past, they can contribute much to our understanding of it. Anecdotes are particularly valuable in that they most commonly achieve the profound sense of involvement which gives oral history recordings a strength of personal character unique among the various classes of historical documentation.

There are, however, inherent contradictions in a very flexible approach to oral history which have to be guarded against. For in seeking to meet all demands lies the danger that you may satisfy none. So flexibility requires not less preparation but more. It calls for a structured approach, so that within a disciplined plan interviewers are in fact able to move freely with purpose and effect. For by laying down fairly rigid research rules, the breaking of them will not only be a deliberate decision (or at least a conscious occurrence); it will also be constructive towards those ends other than pure research which a professional collecting centre should always have in mind.

As regards the scholarly use of oral history collections, how can the collecting centre best serve the academic researcher? Scholars will not be able to assess the nature and worth of oral evidence, or its relevance to their needs, unless each stage of its creation has been carefully documented (see also Chapter 3). The general aims of the collecting centre in carrying out a recording project, may be very different indeed from the purpose of the historian who eventually seeks access to the resultant material. So, along with the recordings and transcripts, the archive must also be prepared to furnish its users with the fullest details of the collecting methods which were used, as well as sufficient personal details of the informant for the scholar to be able to judge the quality of his source.

The principles suggested in this section as being particularly relevant to libraries and archives - or to the institutions in which such collecting centres may be set - have to be seen against the range of possible uses to which oral history material may be put (see also Chapter 12). Thus radio broadcasting and audio publications are realisable ends, offering attractive opportunities for the very wide dissemination of archive records. Within museums, and elsewhere for exhibition purposes, oral history recordings provide a display technique which is Singularly effective for reminding visitors that history is about people, as well as giving background and depth to the objects exhibited. To teachers, the scope for using recordings in the classroom is wide and, unlike most of the published audio packages which are available, oral history archives provide educationists with raw materials from which they can select and compile the aids they judge best suited to their particular needs. Scholarship has already been sufficiently served by oral history to make it unnecessary to re-emphasise the value of oral evidence in research and publication. Finally, the familiarity of the public with audio information and stimuli over several decades will undoubtedly offer many new opportunities for using oral history recordings in research and education. In this full range of exploitation lies the dividend which collecting centres should seek and this, in turn, underlines the need to develop a more archive centred methodology which both draws upon purely academic experience and adds to it.

3. Project Organisation

The organisational methods on which this section is based have been applied across a wide subject and chronological range. They can be adapted for much oral history research which is concerned with the history of particular social and occupational groups. In order to allow readers to relate the various phases of project management to specific examples it is convenient, however, to concentrate on a single project. The project used for illustrative purposes was concerned with the experiences and conditions of service of sailors who served on the lower deck of the Royal Navy between the years 1910 and 1922.


The organisation of any project should be set within realistic research goals. Since oral history recording is dependent for worthwhile results on human memory, this fallible faculty must be accommodated by careful preparation. The planning of the project should, therefore, be based on as thorough understanding of the subject field (and of the availability of informants) as the existing records permit.

It is prudent, first, to fix a research period which is historically identifiable as being self-contained. In the lower deck project, for example, the so-called Fisher Reforms of 1906 altered several important aspects of naval life: the First World War stimulated further changes during the early 1920s; and the Invergordon Mutiny in 1931 was another watershed for Royal Naval seamen. The combination of these three distinct periods in a recording project, would have made it extremely difficult for sailors who served throughout them to avoid confusion on many details of routine life which, for research purposes, might be of critical importance. Three distinct periods of social change within a single career of professional experience are clearly difficult for informants to separate with few points of reference beyond their own memories. By setting the general limits of the lower deck project at 1910 to 1922, a reasonably distinct period of naval life was isolated as appropriate for oral history research.

The research problems which are created by rapid social change can seldom be eliminated entirely from oral history recording. It is for this reason that historically unsophisticated interviewing can result in information of uncertain reliability. Therefore, the project organiser's responsibility is to minimise the dangers implicit in such situations by his own common sense and historical sensitivity, and he should always apply the question 'Is this reasonable?' to the goals which he sets. Some practical examples of the application of this principle in oral history research are given overleaf.

The chronological scope of an oral history project should be fixed before any recording begins, bearing in mind the age of the likely informants as well as the historical character of the subject field. By the time the lower deck project began in 1975, men who saw service in the Navy as early as 1910 were in their eighties, and thus the opportunities for preceding this date were limited. This basic consideration affects all oral history recording. The informants who are actually available to be interviewed, also predetermine many of the topics which may be sensibly raised. Thus, owing to the slowness of promotion in the Royal Navy there was little point in introducing questions about, for example, conditions in petty officers' messes in 1910. Only informants into their nineties would have had the necessary experiences to be able to answer them. The chances of locating a sufficient number of interviewees of this great age, were sufficiently slight to preclude this and many similar topics -from being a practical aim within a systematic research project.

Similarly, the project organiser must take into account the structure of the particular group of people he is concerned with. For example, a battleship of the Dreadnought era - with a complement of some 700 men - might carry one writer (i.e. account's clerk) and one sailmaker. The odds against tracing such rare individuals more than fifty years after the events eliminated some aspects of financial administration and some trade skills aboard ship from the range of what it was likely to be able to achieve.
The selection of and possible bias among informants, are related factors which have to be appreciated. Between 1914 and 1918 the total size of the Navy increased threefold owing to the needs of war. A substantial proportion of those who served for hostilities only may not have accepted the traditional mores of regular lower deck life. At the end of a carefully organised and conducted project, the organiser had no clear idea of whether wartime personnel generally adopted the attitudes of those who had been in the service since they were boys, because the original selection of informants simply did not permit systematic investigation of their particular prejudices. An appropriate selection of sailors to be interviewed would have produced a representative sample of these kinds of informants and thereby provided suitable evidence from which conclusions about this particular question could be drawn. This obviously does not devalue the information for the purposes for which it was recorded, but it does eliminate the range of hypotheses to which this body of data is open. Thus, the project organiser must take into account the relationship between the subject matter of the project and his selection of informants and -at one stage yet farther removed from recording - this involves being clear about the kind of research evidence he is actually seeking to collect.


The list of topics which guided the interviewers' work in the lower deck project is given below, as one example of subject delineation in oral history research. The field of study was first broken down into the following main areas:

a Background and enlistment
b Training
c Dress
d Ships
e Work
f Mess room life
g Rations and victualling
h Discipline
i Religion
j Traditions and customs
k Foreign service
l Home ports
m Pay and benefits
n Naval operations
o Effects of the war
p Family life
q Post service experience

Each of these topics was examined in some detail, the extent and nature of which may be demonstrated by one example. Thus, in dealing with the subject of 'Discipline', the following questions influenced the interviewers' approach:

a. What was the standard and nature of discipline on the lower deck? Who influenced it? Did it vary much?

b. What were the most common offences? What were the most extreme? How were they punished?

c. Was the discipline fair? Was it possible to appeal effectively against any unfair treatment, if it occurred?

d. What was the lower deck's attitude to naval police? How much and what sort of power did they have? Did they ever abuse their authority?

e. What were relations like between the lower deck and commissioned officers, 'ranker' officers, NCOs and the Marines?

f. Was there any code of informal discipline or constraint on the lower deck? What kind of behaviour was considered unacceptable and how would it be dealt with?

g. Who were the most influential members of the lower deck? Was their influence based on any factors other than rank?


While there can be no question that the purposes of oral history research need to be very carefully defined, the way in which project papers should be used is open to variation. Some important work has been done 1 in which listed questions are much more numerous and refined than in the above example and the resultant paper used in the form of a social research questionnaire. While such methods may serve the purposes of some historians, for the wider aims of collecting centres (see Chapter 2) formal questionnaires have not been found suitable. Partly this is because no questionnaire is sufficiently flexible to accommodate, in itself, the unexpected and valuable twists and turns of an informant's memory; and partly it is due to the fact that a questionnaire can become an obstacle to achieving the natural and spontaneous dialogue that is the aim of most oral historians.

But, short of a questionnaire, lists of topics can provide useful guidelines for interviewers to work to. The more interviewers there are engaged on a particular project, the greater becomes the need to ensure consistency of approach. As a device for obtaining such consistency, topic lists have a practical value throughout a recording project. Even with a project which is in the custody of one historian, the construction of a formal research paper is still valuable for reference purposes, because consistency is no less important and only somewhat more certain with one interviewer than with many, in the course of a recording project of any significant scale.

  1. The outstanding British example of this kind of approach is Dr Paul Thompson's (University of Essex) study of family life and social history in Edwardian Britain.


It is possible, simply by drawing the interviewers together and taking their reactions, to get an impression of the progress that has been achieved at various stages of the recording programme. However, for the effective monitoring of the project more systematic aids should be introduced. These are needed because the creation of oral history recordings usually far outstrips that of processing the recorded interviews. Cataloguing, indexing and transcribing generally lag so far behind recording that the customary aids which give access to the material are not available when they would be most useful for project control.

As an intermediate means of registering the project information as it is being recorded, simple visual aids can be designed which are appropriate to the work which is being carried out. In the case of the lower deck project the chart reproduced opposite was useful as such a tool. When projects are geared to preparatory research papers and control charts of the kind reproduced [under Documentation, next section] oral history recording can be effectively monitored and sensibly controlled. At the beginning of the project, the research paper represents the academic definition of the project goals. By careful application in the field academic prescription and practical possibility can begin to be reconciled. Thus, in the light of early interviewing experience, the list can be altered after some initial application. Certain questions may be modified, some removed or new questions may be introduced into the initial scheme, until a more refined and useful document emerges. Sensible alterations to the scope of a project cannot be made without a systematic approach of the kind that is implied in the formulation of a project paper.

As recording progresses, a chart of the information being collected permits the monitoring of the project's interim results. The value of the original topics - and their various divisions - should not be treated as inviolate until the work has run its full course. A common experience is that the collection of information in some subject areas reaches a point of saturation before many of the others. Such lines of questioning may be discontinued when there is reasonable certainty that their continuation would be unlikely to add significantly to the information that has already been recorded. The converse is also facilitated by a framework which permits the interim analysis of results. That is to say, areas in which the collection of information has proceeded less satisfactorily can more easily be singled out for greater attention.

Devices of the kind described above are usually essential in the effective management of oral history research. Unless the resources of the collecting centre are untypically lavish, there is usually no other means by which it can be established that the interviewing and recording is achieving the results which were originally sought. It is obviously necessary, through such methods, to be able to control the course of the project and to judge when it may be terminated.


For the proper assessment and use of oral evidence, the collecting centre should systematically record the project methodology. Without this background information the scholar may not be able to use appropriately the information which has been recorded. What were the aims of the project organiser? By what means were informants selected for interview? What was their individual background? How were the interviews conducted? How was the work as a whole controlled? The more information there is available to answer such questions as these, the more valuable oral history materials will be to the researcher and the more securely he can make use of them in his work.

A formal paper, of the kind recommended earlier, can tell the user a great deal about how the project was structured. A working file will be even more useful, if it reveals the way in which the work evolved (recording what changes were introduced at what stage in the development of the project). Such files should be maintained and regarded as an integral part of the research materials which may be needed by historians.

Individual informant files should also be accessible for research. They should contain biographical details of the informant and also be organised in such a way that the user can correlate tapes or transcripts with places and dates which are covered by the interview. In this respect, interviewers are in a uniquely valuable position to secure a documentary basis of the information they record. Often the informant's memory, photographic and documentary materials in his possession, reference sources and the interviewer's own subject expertise, can be combined to formulate quite a detailed chronology. This will support and give background to the recorded interview.

Similarly, the interview itself should be used as a means of establishing the kind of background information that will give additional significance to the information the informant provides. Thus, in addition to the specific project information the interviewer is seeking, he can with advantage also record details of the informant's place of birth and upbringing, his family background, economic circumstances, educational attainments, occupational experiences and so on.

Much that an informant says during the course of an interview he may wish to correct, amend or amplify subsequently. No documentation system would be complete without providing him with the means so to do. The opportunity to listen to or read the completed interview often provides the informant with a considerable stimulus to add to the information which has already been recorded. Once committed to an oral history interview, most informants feel the need for historical exactitude. Collecting centres can maintain their transcripts in pristine condition, whilst also giving informants full opportunity to supplement with written notes the information they have already given, and filing such notes along with the final tapes and transcript.

4. Interviewing

Oral history interviewing approximates to many kinds of situations in which one person is seeking to obtain information from another. In other words it is not a scientific technique (although it should be a systematic one) for which there are many fixed rules. A successful interviewer will develop his own methods and the most that a publication like this can hope to provide will be a few general guidelines.

More useful than any guidelines, however, is sensitive reviewing by the interviewer of the work which he has actually done. Potentially good interviewers will recognise many of the mistakes that may occur in their first interviews and be able to make the appropriate changes in their subsequent work. Those who lack this facility are unlikely to make good interviewers. The benefits from reviewing recordings will be greater if the study and analysis of the recorded interviews is a shared experience. Interviewing is commonly an emotional process from which the interviewer cannot entirely disassociate himself. (It would, in any case, be counterproductive for the interviewer to try to eliminate his commitment to the interview because it is on this personal level that much of his effectiveness will depend.) But it is important that he should have a thorough understanding of how he functions in an interview situation and how his informants react and relate to him. To achieve this the observations of experienced colleagues, who can bring greater detachn1ent and objectivity to the reviewing process, are particularly valuable.

It is helpful in oral history that interviewing is carried out within a clear historical framework; for when the aims are clear the achievements can be the better assessed. The most effective test of oral history interviewing is whether or not it is producing appropriate results. If the interviewer has been successful in these terms then this, more than his observance of all the approved conventions, is the ultimate criterion by which his work must be judged.

Having said this, the following guidelines may nonetheless be instructive:


The purpose of oral history interviewing and recording is to collect interesting and significant information by questioning men and women about their personal experiences within prescribed subject areas. Interviews should be based mainly on activities or events in which informants were directly involved. Opinions and attitudes may also be of interest and value, provided they generally derive from some personal knowledge on the part of the informant. Completely unfounded views are unlikely to be useful, unless the particular oral history project has some special purpose.

Interviews may often provide original information; they should always produce interesting reminiscences. The application of these two criteria is the best test of whether an interview has been successful or not.

Preliminary Interviews

For some kinds of oral history interviews preliminary meetings are unnecessary and can prove to be a positive disadvantage by taking the initiative from the interviewer. In recording well known politicians, for example, the historian is in any case generally able to find from written sources sufficient information about the informant's life and career to identify in advance of an interview the relevant and worthwhile subjects for discussion. The case of most informants from working class backgrounds is significantly different. Here the main and sometimes only source about the research field and the particular individual's place within it, is oral. Thus there are usually few points of reference apart from the informant's memory from which the interviewer can satisfactorily prepare himself. So, for the purpose of structuring the interview in a way which will obtain the most valid and valuable contribution each person can make, a preliminary interview is generally useful in providing the basis for successful subsequent recording sessions. The processes of research interviewing and recording methods are also sufficiently novel to unsophisticated informants that their introduction to them in a gradual fashion is a prudent and beneficial course.

The preliminary interview, therefore, has four main purposes:

  1. To enable the interviewer and informant to get to know each other and thereby create the appropriate atmosphere for a relaxed and trusting dialogue.
  2. To give the interviewer insight into the personality of the informant so that he can adjust his approach the questions he asks and the way he puts them to the individual needs of each informant.
  3. To provide the interviewer with adequate factual information about the informant's background and experiences so that he can structure the recorded interview in a sensible, well informed and appropriate way.
  4. To enable the interviewer to decide whether the potential informant is worth recording or not. Contributors should not be discarded lightly: but there is no point in pecording them unless they have useful information to give and are reasonably well able to articulate it.

If the preliminary interview has been conducted with care the subsequent recording sessions will have a real sense of purpose and direction.

Some oral historians regard preliminary interviews as anathema and most commonly argue that they rob the subsequent recordings of much of their spontaneity. It has to be acknowledged that sometimes the first account of a particular event is the best one. But the spontaneity of the overall interview is not significantly reduced provided the first recording session does not follow too closely on the preliminary meeting (a gap of between one and two weeks seems to work best). If the loss of freshness in a small proportion of the recording is a regrettable price which sometimes has to be paid, there are clear compensating advantages from preliminary interviews which can be identified. The opportunity they provide to reflect on and study the range and detail of possible questioning, can result in many questions being put which might not have occurred to the interviewer in the heat of a recording session which was not so prepared. It can be argued that follow-up interviews serve the same purpose; but they do so only at the expense of producing a very disjointed recording in which related parts need to be subsequently brought together either by editing or more elaborate cataloguing.

Generally, the degree of useful information in a recording is in direct proportion to the amount of interview preparation that has been carried out. Preparation which is also related to a prior appraisal of the informant's capabilities will usually result in recordings of greatest substance and economy. An undisciplined interview, on the other hand, will produce recordings and transcripts which are difficult and time consuming to organise or use as well as being extremely expensive products. A heavy cost may have to be paid in cataloguing and transcribing for that first spontaneity which too easily deteriorates into superficial meanderings.

Recording Sessions

The ideal oral history recording would be a natural and spontaneous unfolding of all those parts of an informant's life story which have a connection with the research field being studied. Natural and spontaneous they will often be; but it is the rare and treasured exception when interviews unfold. More typically they are drawn out through good preparation and hard work. Interviews most conveniently follow a chronological pattern; start at the beginning and work systematically through the period which the particular project is concerned with. This helps to ensure that most of the informant's relevant experiences are covered and also correlates particular details with specific periods and places.

Do not hurry the interviewing process. The pace of an interview depends mainly on the informant's personal capacity; the length depends entirely on the amount of useful information he has to give. There should be no other personal factors to consider in deciding how much time to devote to each informant.

Keep your questions as short and simple as reasonably possible and only ask one at a time. When you are reaching the end of a reel avoid questions which are likely to elicit a lengthy response, so that the informant does not lose the thread of his answer during a reel change. Do not interrupt the informant while he is speaking or interpolate 'yes', 'I see' and other noises to encourage the speaker and reassure him of your interest and attention. Appropriate facial expressions serve this purpose equally well and do not spoil the recording with extraneous noises.

Interviewing Sins

  1. Questions which are unnecessarily long
  2. Questions which are not clear
  3. Questions, too frequently, which are answerable by 'yes' or 'no'
  4. Combining several questions into one
  5. Interrupting a speaker with a secondary question before he has finished answering the first
  6. Failing to press a question which has not been fully or satisfactorily answered
  7. Seeking, too often, for opinions and attitudes (particularly without establishing any factual basis for them)
  8. Missing opportunities for follow-up questions which are 'invited' by earlier answers
  9. Not asking for specific examples to illustrate general points which an informant has made
  10. Jumping to and fro between one subject and another, or one time period and another.

The final transcript of a recorded interview can provide revealing evidence about how effectively the interviewer has done his job. For similar reasons as reviewing the recordings, the transcript merits study. Perhaps the clearest indication that preparation was inadequate or the interviewer somehow lost his way, is to be found in the balance between questions and answers. If the interviewer occupies a disproportionate amount of transcript text, then it is likely that something has gone amiss!


5. Recording

If an interview is worth recording, it is worth recording well. A poorly recorded interview can be transcribed but it can be used for little else. Radio, television and commercial records have accustomed present generations to a fairly high standard of recorded sound. This has also set a standard for any oral historians who wish to use their tapes for the various audio applications which are described in Chapter 12. Even if these uses are not of primary concern, interviewers should take the trouble to use their tools efficiently. Given that recording techniques for the usual interview situation are perfectly straightforward, if becomes almost as easy to make a good recording as a bad one!

Recording Environment

The biggest problem when recording in people's homes is persistent extraneous background noise. If informants live on a busy road or near an airport, for example, there is usually no way in which a good quality recording can be made. Sometimes moving to another room in the informant's house will enable you to get far enough away from the source of the extraneous noise to make a satisfactory recording. Otherwise the only alternatives may be to try to move to the home of a neighbour, friend or relative, or to ask the informant to come to the collecting institution if better facilities are available there.

A good many minor extraneous noises can be and should be silenced. Clocks, fluorescent tubes, refrigerators and other electrical appliances are most common and can usually be stopped or moved. Dogs and budgerigars should also be 'silenced'. To deal with the noise problem interviewers must carefully assess the environment. Listen! If you can hear noises the microphone can too and they will always sound more distracting and prominent on the recording than they do to the interviewer at the time.

The best rooms for recording are those that contain a lot of soft furnishings and such things as curtains, carpets and rugs. This will usually be the living room. Technically, the bedroom is probably the next best recording area! Rather bare rooms, with a lot of hard reflective surfaces will give the recording an echoey, bathroom-type sound and should be avoided if possible.

Microphones which can be clipped to the informant's clothing are best suited to oral history interviewing requirements (see also Chapter 9). Apart from being small, and therefore unobtrusive, they permit almost complete flexibility in the matter of seating arrangements. You should place the informant and yourself in the most 'natural' setting. If the informant has a favourite or usual chair, that is where he should sit. Place yourself in a position where you are comfortable and can make good eye contact with him. In other words, you should arrange a social disposition and avoid 'staging' the interview.

If you are using a table standing microphone, the easiest way to work is to set up the microphone on a table (over which there is a table cloth or some other soft material) at which the interviewer and informant can sit on fairly upright chairs. Try to avoid easy chairs as these tend to throw the speaker too far back from the microphone to obtain a good recording level.

The recorder itself is best placed out of the informant's view (and never on the same table as the microphone), but in a position where the interviewer can see it easily. This is arranged most simply by the machine and the informant being on the opposite sides of the interviewer, so that his body serves as a screen.
Thus, in selecting your recording environment, there are three main considerations:-

a. Extraneous noise
b. The room acoustic
c. The convenience and comfort of informant and interviewer

Often you will have to compromise, because it will not be possible to meet all three conditions. In such cases, (a) and (c) above are the most important considerations for getting a good quality recording.

Microphone Placement

A clip microphone should be attached to the most stable appropriate part of the informant's clothing, so that it cannot swing in response to movements of his body. Thus, a jacket lapel is to be preferred to a tie. The microphone should be placed some six inches (15 centimetres) from his mouth; that is about breast pocket level. Secure the informant's microphone cable in some appropriate way (e.g. by tucking it into the corner of his chair) and make sure, at all costs, that he does not handle it while you are recording.

A table standing microphone should be placed not farther than eighteen inches (45 centimetres) from the informant's mouth. Interviewers should try to get an equal recording balance between the interviewer and the informant, which may require adjusting the speakers' positions relative to the microphone to compensate for the one with the weaker voice. Remember, however, that the informant is more important than the interviewer and at least ensure that you are getting a good recording level on his voice. Do not aim the microphone at the informant. You will get better results (and find it easier to make good eye contact with him) by placing the microphone so that you are both speaking across it.

Using the Recorder

In selecting the recording speed one factor to bear in mind is that the slower the speed the lower the absolute recorded frequency range, and the higher the relative tape hiss level. That is to say that at the slow speeds of 1 7/8 i.p.s. (4.75 cm/sec) and 15/16 i.p.s. (2.4 cm/sec) you may fail to record the higher frequencies of the voice on some machines. As the hiss level increases noticeably at these speeds, this produces an extraneous audible noise at the same time. These two related factors working in combination can produce an unpleasing recording. With a modern machine and an appropriate tape these dangers will usually be avoided and spoken word recordings of a high standard should be achieved at speeds of 3¾ i.p.s. (9.5 cm/sec) and above.

The use of automatic recording level control devices found on many recorders is not generally recommended. There is a case for using them with informants whose voice levels rise and fall dramatically or with a fixed microphone for interviewees who are constantly moving their positions relative to the microphone. But as they can have the result of making certain words sound clipped and may also cause a general and audible rise and fall effect on the recording these automatic controls should only be used under exceptional circumstances.

Interviewers should set the recording level manually, so that at the 'peaks' of the informant's speech the meter level indicator is just below the 100% or zero mark. This means that for much of the interview the needle will probably only be registering in the lower regions of the meter and never - well hardly ever -in the section which is usually marked in red. Set the recording level while social pleasantries are being exchanged and then apart from the occasional glance concentrate on the informant. If the interviewer has made the initial adjustment carefully, then most reasonable quality modern tape recorders will take care of the rest.

Before using the equipment in the field experiment with it at home or in the office. This teaches the interviewer what his recorder is capable of and how to get the best results from it. Such familiarisation exercises will also give the operator confidence in his own competence. The lack of such confidence in the interviewer can have a similar effect on the informant.


A key point during recording is to speak the informant's name and the appropriate reel number onto the tape and to write the corresponding references on the carton. Neglect of this common sense practice can make a nonsense of transcripts and catalogues.

6. Transcribing

The practice of reproducing the content of a recorded interview in the form of a typescript, thereby creating the oral history transcript (a hybrid that is neither a genuinely oral record nor truly a written document), has resulted in an apparently endless debate about the relative status of these two formats. To the extent that it focuses attention on how to present an essentially verbal record as accurately as the written format permits, the debate should be of interest and value to all collectors and users of oral history materials. However, claims that the transcript is the primary oral history document ascribe to it a character which the most discriminating processing methods can never achieve. The only form in which the full content and quality of oral information can be reproduced is that in which it is recorded. It is in the spoken word, not the written, that the oral history interview is encapsulated.

Given that the average speed of reading is about three times as fast as the average rate of speaking (and therefore of listening, since there are as yet no generally available systems for fully redressing this imbalance while retaining speech audibility) the value and importance of the transcript obviously lies in the convenience of access it permits to the content of oral history interviews. While the transcript has no other major advantage over the recording, this one alone is a sufficient justification for its existence, and a sufficient guarantee that most collecting centres which have the means will endeavour to transcribe as many of their interviews as possible.


If collecting centres do not have the resources to transcribe their recordings, effective cataloguing and indexing (see Chapter 7) is of paramount importance, as it provides the sole facility for retrieving information which has been recorded. Other institutions either may not have the means to transcribe all the recorded interviews they collect, or they may feel that not all of their recordings merit this costly process. In all cases where a measure of selection is necessary, the following criteria can be used. Transcription may be recommended when:

  1. The fame or historical Significance of the informants suggest that there will probably be a demand for access to their interviews.
  2. More than 50% of the content of a particular interview is informative as opposed to impressionistic in character.
  3. There are clearly outstanding parts, though amounting to less than 50% of the whole interview, in an otherwise unexceptional recording (then the appropriate reels may be specifically recommended for transcription).
  4. The quality of the interview, as a sound recording, is sufficiently lively and interesting to indicate that it has potential value for use in, for example, educational or broadcasting programmes.

It does not follow from the above that the lack of a transcript necessarily indicates a poor interview. Interviews which are not selected for transcription may be those which contain a higher degree of general than specific information; those in which there is more opinion than illustration; and those where the informant is less articulate or overly discursive. Such interviews may well contain extremely valuable information even though - for one reason or another - it is not well enough presented by the informant to justify the cost of transcribing.

Transcribing Policy

One major factor which affects transcribing policy is the relative status which the particular institution gives to its recordings and transcripts. The Department on whose methods An Archive Approach to Oral History is based unequivocally takes the position that the sound recording is the primary oral history document. In application, the main consequence of this viewpoint is that the resultant transcripts contain the facts of the interviews but are not overly concerned with their 'flavour'. Many conversational characteristics are deliberately excluded from the transcript and those users who seek or need the verbal idiosyncrasies of oral history are directed to the sound recordings.

Each collecting centre must take its own decision on this general principle and, following from it, what scale of its resources tp allocate to the transcribing programme. The investment in this work -if it is undertaken at all -will, however, always be substantial because transcribing is by its nature time consuming, labour intensive and therefore costly. Thus the area for individual choice lies not in whether transcribing may be done cheaply or expensively, but in making the programme more or less expensive. What then are the relevant considerations? The most fundamental one is implicit in the previous paragraph, but there are many others. Should the first typescript be the final product? If corrections are made to it should they be made in manuscript or must they be in typescript? If in typescript, should the corrections be made on the original transcript or should this be retyped? Should you permit informants to amend their original statements and, if you do, should the entire text be retyped to accommodate them? If common subjects are discussed in different parts of the interview should these be brought together in the transcript? By answering all such questions collecting institutions will eventually find the balance between what they prefer and what they can afford.

When the collecting centre has formulated its policy it is important that the preferred practices are laid down in the form of detailed written directions to which the typists can refer. This provides a clear basis for their work: the most economic means of achieving consistency: and, above all, it ensures that extremely important decisions are taken by the historian and not by the typist. In this lies the best guarantee that the content and construction of the interview will be faithfully reproduced.

General Practice

The task of the typist is to produce an accurate typescript of the interview and by the appropriate use of sentences, paragraphs and punctuation - to make it as literate a document as possible without altering the words or sense of the speakers. Thus the informant's choice of words should always be retained; 'I were' should not be changed to 'I was' or 'don't' replaced by 'do not'. Similarly, certain conventions of the written word, such as not beginning sentences with conjunctions, need not be observed when typing the spoken word. The most loyal printed facsimile of an oral record would contain phonetic spellings and, by this and other means, take account of unusual words or forms of words which are due to dialect or accent. For purely historical research, however, such methods are unnecessary and, in most cases, known words are best given their conventional spellings.

Although the object is to transcribe the interview as accurately as possible, there are certain conversational characteristics which can be excluded from the transcript. False starts, such as 'it was in ... no it wasn't ... I remember now ... it was in the autumn of 1916', may be ignored and only the informative section of the recording need be transcribed. Repetitions may often be left out of the transcript, while 'ums' and 'errs', slips of the tongue, insignificant mistakes, and uninformative interjections are among the features of normal speech that may appear on the recording but can also be ignored as they would add nothing of substance to the typescript of the interview.

As there are aspects of a recorded interview which need not be carried over onto the typescript, there are also additions to it which may be usefully made in order to clarify the meaning or structure of what has been said. If, for example, there is a distinct pause in mid-sentence it may be helpful to indicate the speaker's hesitation by some clear convention such as three spaced dots. Suitable linking words may be added to the text where the recording is inaudible to the typist and either the informant or the interviewer feels able to provide the sense of the missing piece. In such cases, however, the readers should be warned that the inserted words are additions by placing them in square brackets. A similar situation sometimes occurs when the informant anticipates the interviewer's meaning and starts answering a question before he has completed it. The response can lose much of its pertinence if the reader is not also given the full question and, again, the interviewer should provide at least the sense of what the typist may not be able to hear.

In their general construction, transcripts should conform to the accepted rules and conventions of written language. These, however, may be variously applied in processing oral history interviews and a great many detailed decisions therefore have to be taken in order to establish a clear house-style (in this process consistency is usually more important than any particular practice). For example, should the speaker's qualifications or parentheses be indicated by placing them within brackets or by inserting hyphens before and after the appropriate piece? Should pauses in speech or unconc1uded sentences be represented by dots or by dashes? When direct speech has to be indicated are single or double inverted commas to be preferred and how do you then distinguish between direct speech and quotations? If magazines, bocks, newspapers or song titles are referred to, which of the conventions among the various possibilities (underlining, inverted commas, capitalisation) are to be employed in each case? When numbers are mentioned, are they to be typed in full or in numerals and where numerals are preferred are there occasions when Arabic or Roman figures might be used to distinctive advantage?

It will be clear from such examples that many transcribing conventions will not be based on absolute rules but, often, on preferences between equally serviceable alternatives. It will also be noted that the written representation of the spoken word makes considerable demands on the number of available conventions and that this necessitates very careful consideration and selection among the options for each case. This should under1ine the need for a set of formal transcribing rules which the typists should consistently app1y. To give one more example, all the possible cases where complete words or first letters might be capitalised should be prescribed. Without clear guidelines imagine the various forms in which the following piece might be typed: 'Life aboard HMS TIGER (Tiger) was my worst experience of navy (Navy) discipline and in the Engine Room Branch (engine room branch) the petty officers (Petty Officers) really ruled it over the stokers (Stokers). There was a Chief Petty Officer (chief petty officer) Jones in Number 2 Boiler Room (number two boiler room) who wielded a real rod of iron. This sort of thing could make you hate the service (Service)! The list of questions which have to be considered and answered in order to regularise transcribing practice is not endless but it is certainly long and cannot - or at least should not - be avoided.

The layout of the transcript also raises important considerations. Presentation and format not only have a bearing on the good appearance of a document which is produced at considerable cost; they are also instrumental in making the text as clear as possible and the typescript convenient to use. The options in this field are again quite numerous. Margins (on all Sides), page numbers (and - for correlation - reel or cassette numbers), informant's and interviewer's names (or initials), overleaf keywords, spacing and alignment should therefore all be standardised.

The main purpose of this chapter is to identify some of the main problems and pitfalls which arise in the process of transcribing oral history recordings. A specific code of practice has not been laid down because it is to be expected that collecting institutions will formulate their own conventions in the light of individual preference and resources. But although practice may vary the problems are common. Every transcribing programme therefore needs to be based on a detailed set of rules which are consistently applied if the programme is to be systematically effective. For detailed instructions based on the preferred (and exacting) transcription methods of one experienced centre, reference may be made to Transcribing and Editing Oral History by Willa Baum (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History; 1977).

7. Cataloguing and indexing (Roger Smither with Laura Kamel)


Oral history recordings are exceptional among reference materials in that their contents are not amenable to 'browsing'. Researchers and cataloguers may 'dip' into a book or flip through a photograph album. There are, however, no real alternatives to playing a sound recording on appropriate equipment at the correct speed all the way through. It is true, of course, that an oral history transcript is as accessible as any other comparable documents, but since the audio dimension of oral history carries a significant part ,of its message adequate documentation has to be provided by way of finding aids for access to the original medium.

The documentation discussed here is, primarily, that which the archive maintains on its own premises for its own purposes, covering the entire collection. Material extracted from the central source for publication is of secondary importance in this context and will not be considered in this section. The documentation which it is normally considered essential for an archive to supply comprises a catalogue, with entries describing each separate item in the collection, and an index or several indexes in which the user may look up the topics which match his interest and be directed to items in the collection relevant to those topics. The index should be regarded more as a key to the catalogue than to the collection itself. Although the researcher who finds only one reference in the index suiting his needs may as well go directly to the item indicated, the researcher who is offered several apparently suitable recordings by the index should use the catalogue, with its description of the nature and context of the proferred items, as a means of refining his short list before progressing to listening to tapes. Provision of transcripts may help the process of refinement still further.

What information should be conveyed by the entries in this catalogue which is so central to an archive's documentation, and does there exist a proven acceptable system which would spare the archivist the task of evolving his own? The staff of an oral history archive asking these - questions will find the answers overlap. There are several extant cataloguing systems, and any or all of them repay examination; they all, naturally, also stipulate what information is to be provided. It is, however, inevitably true that most extant library cataloguing systems have been designed solely or primarily for book collections. The cataloguer of oral history recordings may find serious discrepancies between what an existing system offers and what his collection needs. Typically, a book catalogue entry looks for a title, a statement of authorship or responsibility and publication details. The cataloguer handling recorded interviews will find such labels inappropriate to his sources and, although the conventions may be forced to meet his needs, the results may please no one. The available 'standard' library package may well not provide a solution with which a conscientious archivist will be satisfied.

As people do not usually talk in the same way as they write, similar difficulties may be found in adapting established indexing or classification systems to the needs of an oral history archive. An even more serious difficulty arises because most oral history collections are set up with a specialist subject or regional emphasis. As a result they will usually be too specialised for established general systems and too generalised for existing specialist systems. For example, the Universal Decimal Classification system (UDC) covers 'the whole field of knowledge' but consequently offers little space for any specialised single interest. An archive of labour history would find that 'Labour, Work and Employment' is subsection 331 of section 33 (‘Political Economy, Economics') of UDC's primary division 3 (‘Social Sciences'). While a specialised archive would leave large portions of the classification system unused, its cataloguers and researchers would be obliged to pursue references through several digits and 'auxiliaries' to achieve a full description, a task they might find burdensome and inconvenient. Conversely, a specialist classification system, such as the Engineers' Joint Council Thesaurus of Engineering Terms, may go into too much detail to be of use in similar circumstances, besides failing to cope with the many peripheral topics about which informants may be expected to talk,

A further difficulty in indexing is implicit in the nature of the task. Whereas cataloguing may be described as the objective description of an item in a collection, indexing involves subjective evaluation of what is significant about that item. The evaluation, moreover, must attempt both to reflect a collecting organisation's own policy and to anticipate the needs of future users. The chances of finding a system evolved by a third party that will adequately meet the requirements of both archive and user are s1ender. For any or all of the above reasons, the cataloguer may be compelled to enter on the complex task of devising an indexing system for his archive from scratch.

The remarks made in the preceding paragraphs should not, of course, be read as a rejection of all the work that librarians and archivists have already done. They seek only to caution the creator of a new oral history collection against accepting that anyone has already done all the necessary work for him. Of course, if he can find an adequate extant system, he should use it. Equally, if his collection is part of a larger library or an organisation which already has an adequately functioning single system covering its other collections, he will obviously find substantial advantages in joining in as far as possible with the methods of his colleagues. This chapter may help some cataloguers to evaluate the systems they are offered and to identify those changes on which they feel they should insist. For the less fortunate, the chapter may provide a starting point for their own design work.

General Principles

The introduction has advanced various reasons why cataloguers of oral history recordings are likely to find themselves involved in at least some design work on their documentation. Such work will require a systematic, logical approach but also a degree of flexibility to cope with a changing appreciation of needs. The staff of a new archive may have little experience or clear perception of the future role and users of their collection and there is no real substitute for experience in the evolution of cataloguing and indexing systems that work well in practice rather than look well in theory. Bearing in mind the importance of avoiding at any stage the need for extensive recataloguing or re-indexing of work already done, the problem will be to make the acquisition of such experience as painless as possible.

Certain principles can be usefully applied to new oral history collections. The first and most basic is to avoid over-sophistication. Even a 'specialist' archive may find itself less specialised than its first few interview projects lead it to expect and systems designed too rigidly will look inconsistent with material later acquired. Thus, for example, a catalogue card designed specifically with military careers in mind looks odd and functions poorly when used for conscientious objectors.

A second principle is to concentrate initially on those aspects of the organisational work which are least likely to be open to revision in the light of subsequent experience. Thus first priority should be given to cataloguing which has already been described as an essentially objective or descriptive task; the second priority, to those aspects of indexing which are least likely to cause uncertainty or appear ambiguous; and those areas most open to controversy or subjectivity should be the last to be systematised. An informant's description of a visit to a coal mine by the Prince of Wales, for example, may be simply indexed under date, personality and location. The same informant's opinions on the monarchy, however, may create problems. Cataloguers could disagree as to whether the politics expressed should be indexed as 'Socialism' or 'Republicanism', while later experience of users' expectations might indicate that a single 'Political Opinions' concept would in any case be adequate. A cautious policy of 'wait and see' may save a great deal of trouble although, of course, the cataloguer cannot wait too long for fear of building up too large a backlog of work.

A third general principle for the new collection to apply is the practical determination to operate within a realistic appraisal of available resources and of likely future trends. It is essential that collecting should not press too far ahead of documentation; it is equally important that a conscientious approach to cataloguing and indexing should not hold back the growth of the collection. If resources are limited and likely to remain so, the policy for documentation must take account of those limits. A modest system effectively covering the whole collection is of more use than an ambitious system covering only a part.

Two future trends of which all collections should take note are the probability that they will wish to publish material from their central documentation files , and the possibility - increasingly likely as the necessary technology becomes more available – that they will wish to apply a measure of mechanisation or computerisation to their record keeping and information retrieval work. The two developments may well come together: computer typesetting for the relatively effortless production of printed catalogues is one of the attractions of computer-based cataloguing systems. They both also make the same demands of the cataloguer - principally, an expectation of consistency. The cataloguer anxious for the neat appearance of his work, and looking ahead to publication without expensive proofreading and correction, will consider consistency desirable in any case. The involvement of computers merely makes the desirable essential. Computers are (unless expensively programmed for flexibility) painfully literal minded. To a computer 'Royal Air Force', 'R.A.F.' and 'RAF' will be three concepts, not one. If a computer is to be asked to search or sort the information it stores, then to achieve useful results that information must be both accurate and consistent when it is first recorded. The best method of ensuring consistency is by the early evolution of a set of clear and straightforward cataloguing rules or conventions and strict adherence to those rules once established.


The first consideration in the organisation of a collection of oral history recordings is how best to identify them as individual units for cataloguing. The most practical approach is to treat each complete interview, regardless of length, as the unit to be catalogued. Each interview should be represented by a unique number, which can then be used to bring together or cross-refer all relevant data such as informant's personal details, the subject content of the interview, the transcript and all finding aids such as index entries.

Accession numbers should be allocated from a single consecutive series. Attempts to reflect subject groupings or other patterns of arrangement by reserving 'runs' of numbers within this series are generally counter-productive. The reserved run may be too long or too short, the subject classifications may prove difficult to define, and the usefulness of the accessions register as an immediate guide to the size of the collection is effectively destroyed.

The maintenance of an up to date accessions register should be the first priority of the cataloguing staff of the collection. The information contained in the register need not be extensive, especially if full cataloguing is not falling too far behind accessioning. It should, however, be adequate to indicate the size of the item, the date of acquisition, the source and method of acquisition (eg 'recording', 'purchase', 'exchange', etc) and the nature of the item. For example:

Accession No Date Description Source Method
000731/08 2/V/76 1903-27 Reminiscences of RN Signals Yeoman T Wallace Recording
000732/06 3/V/76 WWI Reminiscences of YAD Nurse ME Callender Recording

In this table the allotted accession number 000731 identities the individual interview: 000731/08 indicates that eight reels of tape together comprise interview 731. Reference to parts of the interview may be made by adding a third element to the number. For example, an index reference to the fact that Mr Wallace talks about his service on H.MS Repulse in reel six of his eight reel interview would specify 000731/08/06.


To fulfil adequately the function of principal finding aid, the catalogue should hold information of two separate but related types: identification of the item catalogued (in an oral history collection this will normally mean identification of the informant interviewed and description of the circumstances of the interview) and a summary of the contents (in the sense of subject matter) of the interview. Established rules and conventions will greatly help the cataloguer in determining how to present his information, but the details of what information to provide and what format to use, are best dictated by the expectations and resources of the collecting organisation.

These two classes of information (item identification and outline description) can be satisfactorily combined in a single piece of descriptive documentation, whatever physical form that documentation may take. Catalogue cards, computer records, loose-leaf binders and other possibilities all offer advantages and disadvantages. The archive will wish to reach its own preferred compromise between such factors as economy and refinement, durability and ease of amendment, simplicity of removal for photocopying or other reproduction and difficulty of extraction by the unauthorised.

The presentation of the entry will also reflect an archive's own decisions on which elements of information are most important; how best to present information so that details often needed are easy to find; how far to reflect international descriptive standards; and so on. Reproduced [below] as an illustration (not as a model for universal adoption) is the format of a simple interview cataloguing card.


The first six lines on the front of the card identify the interview (Accession Number) and the informant (Surname, Forenames, Style, etc). An important question of principle for the cataloguer of oral history interviews is whether the catalogue entry should describe the informant as he or she was at the time the interview was recorded, as opposed to as he or she was during the period covered in the interview. Should a married woman interviewed about her single career be identified by her married or maiden name? If Daphne du Maurier were interviewed about her late husband's military career, would it be confusing to refer to her as Lady Browning? Generally speaking, the name used as a 'main entry' should be the name most appropriate to the contents of the interview and, if that criterion still leaves more than one option open, the name by which the informant wishes to be known should be preferred. All applicable alternatives should, however, be available as cross references -hence the provision for 'other names used'.

The six lines following (Series Titles, Informant's History) indicate the reasons for the informant having been interviewed. The project or series into which the interview fits is indicated; provision is made to cite more than one series title if required, as an informant's reminiscences may be relevant to more than one project. Space is also given to explain how the informant's experiences are relevant to that project. This space is left undivided, as efforts to pre-determine or tabulate 'areas of experience' will usually break down sooner or later -a format appropriate for a coal miner might not lend itself to the career of a shepherd, for example. Cataloguers would, however, be expected to establish conventions to ensure that comparable careers were described in a consistent style throughout a project. Provision of personal details about the informant and his career in the catalogue may of course be reinforced by more detailed coverage in the personal file relating to that informant which the archive will almost certainly wish to retain. The details provided in the catalogue should, however, be sufficient to indicate the topics which the researcher may expect to find in the interview.

The remainder of the front of the card describes the circumstances of the interview and its ownership. The descriptions of the information (Recording Dates, Locations, Duration, Interviewer, Original Medium etc) are largely self-explanatory, but their use is not necessarily so and serves as a reminder of the need for detailed cataloguing rules. Is the more significant date that on which recording began, or the date recording was completed? Should duration be expressed precisely or 'rounded off,' and in minutes only or in hours and minutes? What are the significant technical variables about the original recording -the type of tape (ie single, long or double play), the tape recorder and microphone used, the speed and track width of the original. If 'Listening Copy' is always available on cassette is this descriptive line redundant, or is it necessary to indicate whether or not a listening copy has yet been made? How much detail would be expected under 'Transcription' -a simple 'yes/no', or full information (Reels 1-4 and part of 5 only)? The list could be greatly extended, but the argument is obvious.

The back of the card provides space for listing 'Associated Material'. That is, material relating to the informant which is also available to users of the collection, such as diaries, photographs or letters. A section for 'Notes' allows the inclusion of additional information for which other areas of the card may not provide sufficient space or for which no other provision is made. Such information may relate to the interview (e.g. 'long break in recording owing to illness of informant') or to the informant (e.g. 'informant abandoned pacifist viewpoint on outbreak of Spanish Civil War'). The section headed 'Remarks' permits the cataloguer to record in this one area subjective comments on the interview. Such a provision will encourage the cataloguer to complete the rest of the card with proper objectivity. It also provides an extra dimension which users of the collection (properly warned of the individual and subjective nature of the comments) may find of value. For example 'surprisingly unsympathetic attitude of doctor towards shell shock' will tell the reader something about the informant which the synopsis (confined both by a restriction on length and an insistence on impartiality) could not convey.

So much for the card's use to identify the item being catalogued. The second function of the cataloguing process -providing a guide to the subject content of the recording -is fulfilled by the synopsis on the inside of the catalogue card. The synopsis must be quite detailed or it will not provide potential users with as clear an idea as possible of the relevance of the recording to their interests. At the same time it must not be over-lengthy or the catalogue ceases to be an easily used research tool. The Museum's experience suggests that 50-75 words for each 30 minutes of recording strikes a reasonable balance. To compress the information contained in an interview into this number of words, and at the same time to reflect accurately the sequence or pattern of the interview, confronts cataloguers with quite an exacting task.

The synopsis should take the form of a list of the significant subjects mentioned, reflecting the order in which information appears on the tape. If an informant reverts to a topic mentioned earlier the recurrence should be noted, not deemed to have been adequately covered by the first mention. Within the limits of permitted length the synopsis should be easy to read - excessive contraction of phrases or clauses can be counter-productive. Information should also be complete: the phrase 'opinion of comfortable life lived by Italian POWs employed as farm labourers' is of considerably less use than 'resentment of comfortable life ...' The Museum's instructions to cataloguers suggest the following types of information are desirable for inclusion in a synopsis.

  1. Locations and dates of events wherever possible, eg 'Commission to paint and draw in Northern Ireland 1965'.
  2. Descriptions of events and activities, eg 'Work of wiring parties in erecting and repairing wire fortifications in no-man's land'.
  3. Opinions and attitudes expressed by the informant eg 'Amazement at number of pacifists' .
  4. Opinions the informant heard expressed about himself or others eg 'Father's hostility to her taking up nursing'.
  5. Illustrative stores and anecdotes, eg 'A friend losing her hand in an accident at Woolwich Arsenal' ,
  6. Personal recollections about other people eg 'Development of the air 'ace' concept and comments on Major T B McCudden, Captain A Ball and Captain W A Bishop'.
  7. Descriptions of pieces of equipment and practical experiences of using them eg 'Listening devices used for sound ranging in France during 1918. Description of microphones in use. Locating enemy guns by cross referencing signals from six points'.


The most refined catalogue imaginable will, in spite of its inherent quality, be only as good as is permitted by the accessibility of the information it contains. A poorly indexed catalogue is, therefore, automatically a poor catalogue. This section considers the question of accessibility.

An archive using a card based catalogue will probably be restricted to a single copy catalogue, available in only one order. An , organisation using a loose-leaf (paper) catalogue, could fulfil several 'indexing' functions by producing extra copies of the catalogue sorted by different priorities. (This option is, of course, also available with card catalogues, but only if quantities of typing and clerical assistance, usually not available to new collections, are to hand). If restricted to a single copy catalogue, the archive should maintain that catalogue in accession number order. It is true that this removes the possibility of using the catalogue in any self-indexing capacity, but the accession number is the most available, logical and incontrovertable label identifying an interview for the purposes of all references to it. A file in alphabetical order of informants' names is the next most useful tool, but never as a sole course. Remember that ultimately references would be not just 'SEE SMITH' or 'SEE SMITH, JOHN' but potentially 'SEE SMITH, JOHN (Accession Number XXXXXX)' to achieve positive identification. A decision on the importance of other aspects of the informant or the interview circumstances for indexing purposes would have to be taken by the individual archive. If its work is built around interview projects, lists of the interviews relating to each project are obviously essential; a collection serving regional interests may also feel a need for an index by informant's home-town, and so on. The bulk of indexing work, however, will lie in providing access to the subjects covered in an interview.

If the circumstances of the archive permit, the work of subject-indexing should be carried out at the same time as the writing of the catalogue synopsis and by the same cataloguer. Not merely is the possibility of actual error or mistaken emphasis then reduced compared, say, to a practice of employing an independent indexer working only from the synopsis, but the cataloguer may use the index to supplement the information in the catalogue. If an informant, for example, has spoken of the qualities of Hurricane, Typhoon and Tempest aircraft, the cataloguer may for the sake of brevity be able only to write in the synopsis 'Good qualities of Hawker aircraft' while the index could refer to each machine individually.

The archive must decide how far its resources permit it to be helpful to its user. In the first place, it must decide how accurately to locate each reference; whether to the correct interview, to the correct reel of the interview, or to a precise, measured or timed location on that reel. If synopses have been written reflecting reasonably the order of items on each reel, the second suggestion is probably the best compromise. If interviews tend to be short in a given collection (say an hour or less) even a reference simply to the interview may suffice.

Next, a decision must be reached on how much information to convey in each index entry. That is, should a reference consist merely of a keyword or a UDC code linked to an interview number (as the index at the back of a book merely links topics to page number) or should it incorporate a brief, descriptive statement. In a strict sense, when the index exists as a guide to the catalogue, the former approach should be adequate, while the latter requires extra effort. On the other hand, the latter approach does reduce the labour involved in discovering appropriate references if the keyword or classification selected offers a multitude of possible citations. If a user were researching food supply in the trenches in the First World War in an archive with much material on army life throughout the twentieth century, consider the varying degrees of usefulness to him of the following three types of heading for a reference to a particular reel:

  1. 355.65 (this is the UDC code for 'Military Administration: catering, feeding, rations, messing')
    1917, Passchendaele Ridge: irregular supply and terrible condition; effects on men's health and morale.

If an archive has the resources, the last example is likely to be the most popular with researchers, although the extra effort required is far from negligible.

The most important decision to be taken in subject indexing is, of course, what kinds of information to select for indexing and how to label them. It is, to begin with, extremely desirable that the indexing staff should have a knowledge of the subject matter covered by the interview and an understanding of the intentions of the interviewer (and of the archive) in making the recording. Without such knowledge, a cataloguer may be liable to miss, or misinterpret, the significance of a point covered in the interview. Staff should also understand absolutely what constitutes useful coverage of a topic in oral history, and what does not. A brief or passing reference is only useful if the fact related is of particular interest; opinions or arguments unsubstantiated by evidence or example are similarly only of occasional value; second-hand information may be too unreliable to merit indexing, but if of special interest may be recorded with suitable qualification. It is above all the informant's own experiences, his own recollections of events, and his own attitudes and opinions that interest the oral historian and that should be reflected in indexing.

Once the subjects to be indexed have been chosen, the next step is the allocation of appropriate subject headings or keywords. If the archive is using an extant classification system, the problem must be one of detailed selection. For example, does an informant talking about government direction of agriculture in war time constitute, in UDC Terms, 351.778.2 ('Public Health, Food, Housing Etc/Food Supplies, Housing/Food Supplies, Household Goods') or 351.823.1 ('Economic Legislation and Control, Agriculture, Trade and Industry/Extractive Industries/Agriculture, Stockbreeding, Hun ting, Fishing') or 355.241 ('Forces (Service) Personnel, Mobilization etc/Mobilization of the whole Nation, Economic Mobilization/Agriculture, Industry, Manpower')? If the archive is using its own classification system the problem may be still more complex, for the appropriate classification may have to be devised and not merely selected.

Some types of indexing present few problems, and (as suggested earlier) it may well repay a new archive to concentrate its indexing activities at first on such areas. These types are, generally speaking, those where identification is positive and labelling amenable to broadly accepted rules or usages eg places, personalities, events (arranged by date) and equipment. Provided agreement is reached on which conventions or textbooks are to be regarded as authoritative, sections of a subject index covering areas such as these may be left to grow virtually unsupervised.

The classifier's real difficulties begin with those rare areas of subject matter not amenable to concrete definition; that is, areas of abstract or conceptual information which are, of course, bound to figure largely in the personal opinions and reminiscences which interviews elicit. The problems may be reduced if both index user and index compiler are encouraged to visualise even the conceptual in as concrete a manner as possible. If an enquiry can be turned from a hazy 'I am interested in medical advances' to a more solid 'I would like to find a description of an early blood transfusion' -and if indexing is arranged to cater for such enquiries - then everybody's life becomes considerably easier. The quantity of conceptual work, however, can only be reduced in this way, not eliminated, and will continue to present two main problems. The first is the question of the level of detail at which the index should seek to work: should, for exam pie, an expression of anti-semitic opinions by a Nazi sympathiser be indexed as 'Politics' or 'Fascist Politics' or 'National Socialism', or should the approach be 'Racialism' or 'Anti-Semitism '? The second major problem which is bound up with the first is that of establishing a controlled vocabulary for the conceptual index.

To ensure that a common vocabulary is shared by all its indexers (and by users) an archive must expect to produce, sooner or later, some kind of guide to its index. Part of the guide's function is purely linguistic - establishing 'preferred' terminology among synonyms (eg referring users from 'CALL UP' or 'DRAFT' to the preferred terms 'CONSCRIPTION'). The remaining part of the guide's job is to explain the classification hierarchies used by an index, so that a researcher may have explained to him the relationship between general and detailed terms (reminded, for example, that an interest in 'PREVENTIVE MEDICINE' may be furthered by exploring 'VACCINATION', 'MASS X-RAY PROGRAMMES', etc) and be guided between terms at the same level of detail (eg be informed on looking up 'BLACK MARKET' that the index also has a term covering 'SMUGGLING'). If an adequate guide exists, the question of selecting the appropriate level of detail when making an index entry becomes less severe as the intelligent user of the index will find his own way through the hierarchies.

The nature of the collection, in any case, will probably suggest an appropriate level of detail for indexing. If an ex-soldier interviewed by a military museum refers briefly to his pre-conscription work as a footman , or an ex-footman interviewed by a social history archive refers briefly to his military service, the two organisations would probably feel that, respectively, 'DOMESTIC SERVICE' and 'MILITARY SERVICE' were the most detail their users would expect of them. In their own areas of specialisation, however, they would naturally wish to go into much greater detail. Even in those areas that appear to require detailed attention, however, it may be possible to save time on indexing if the appropriate information is readily accessible elsewhere. If an archive carries out its interviews in subject groups or projects, and each project is well catalogued, a user with broad interests that lie within a particular project's terms is likely to find the items that interest him as quickly by reading the catalogue entries for that project as by hunting through an index. There are, of course, dangers for both user and archive in relying too heavily on this short-cut; a researcher interested in the miners' strike of 1974, for example, should not expect to find all his material in interviews with miners, although he would find a great deal of it there.

The archive must also decide what arrangement of its subject indexes will most help its users, choosing between a combined alphabetical list (on the model of a dictionary) -which should help the general browser, but will frustrate the specialist by forcing him to refer back and forth -and a structured classified list (on the model of a thesaurus) -which should help the specialist, but will frustrate the researcher whose interests cross the borders of the classifications used by the index. As both systems have their advantages, an archive may attempt to provide both to a degree, by adopting one for use and reflecting the other in its vocabulary guide. In weighing advantage against disadvantage, however -as so often in this chapter the ultimate decision must be taken by the individual archive, in the light of its own circumstances, needs and experience.

8. Deposit and access

Collecting institutions have various problems relating to the administration of the oral history materials they acquire. It is in their own interests to establish and maintain a reputation for the responsible management of their collections; without this the cooperation of informants - on which they depend for the future of their recording programmes - may be prejudiced. Most institutions have special spheres of interest, within which the grapevines can very effectively communicate good or adverse comment. In addition to securing their source of material, the aim of oral history librarians and archivists should be to obtain the most liberal conditions of access available for their users, and to provide the highest degree of protection possible for the interests of their informants.

To achieve these ends (which can act in opposition to each other) collectors should understand the nature of their relationships with both informants and users and make clear and appropriate administrative provisions to secure them.

Legal Considerations

The copyright position in respect of most oral history materials is relatively straightforward. There are two copyrights in a recorded interview. First, the copyright in the recording as a recording (i.e. as a work), which usually is the property of the interviewer or the institution he works for (if that institution commissioned the interview). Second, there is a copyright in the information in the recording - that is the words the informant actually says - and this copyright is the property of the interviewee.

The process of making an oral history recording seems to imply certain rights on the part of the interviewer to use the information which he gathers. Directly or indirectly informants are usually given some indication of the purpose of an interview before the recording is made. Thus an informant who, knowing that a historian is collecting material for a book, agrees to be interviewed, would appear to have no grounds for complaint should he duly find himself quoted in print. However, while in practice it may be unlikely that any subsequent objection would be made, the consent implicit in agreeing to be interviewed does not represent a legal right for the interviewer to publish or otherwise reproduce the information he has recorded. To secure this right in law the informant's explicit and written consent is necessary.

The most straightforward practice is to ask each informant to assign his copyright to the collecting institution and-in most cases -they will probably agree to do this. An assignment of copyright effectively transfers all rights in the recording, and therefore the licence for all uses, to the collector. For an assignment of copyright to be legally binding, however, it does have to be in writing and signed by the informant. In some cases the informant will decide to retain his copyright. This need not preclude the collector from using his material for certain purposes, provided the uses envisaged have been specifically authorised by the informant. It should be noted that the authorisation will cover the transcript as well as the recording, only if both these forms of the interview are prescribed in the written agreement. One practical as opposed to legal consideration is that it is frequently more difficult to obtain assignments and settle other conditions of deposit and access with executors or heirs than it is with the informants themselves. As many of the people oral historians interview are elderly it is, therefore, prudent to tie up all the legal loose ends as soon as the interview has been completed.

To deal with questions of copyright and use of oral history materials a form of contract is required. An example is reproduced below:

'I am now writing to formalise the conditions under which the Museum holds your recordings. The questions which I have already put to you verbally are listed below. I should be grateful if you would let me have your written answers in due course.

a. May the Museum's users be granted access to the recordings and any typescripts of them?
b. May the recordings and typescripts be used in the Museum's internal and external educational programmes?
c. May the Museum provide copies of the recordings and typescripts for its users?
d. Would you be prepared to assign your copyright in the information in the recordings to the Trustees of the Imperial War Museum? This would enable us to deal with such matters as publication and broadcasting, should they arise, without having to make prior reference to you. If you agree to this assignment, it would not, of course, preclude any use which you might want to make of the information in the recordings yourself.'

This formal and legalistic kind of procedure is particularly necessary for an institution whose collection is open to a variety of users. Apart from other considerations, it is a matter of common sense to cover the collecting centre against all contingent problems and a matter of administrative convenience not to have to refer to the informant or his heirs for a decision whenever requests to use the material are received. In making these arrangements it is of primary importance that there should be no ambiguity which could lead to future misunderstandings. The responsibility for ensuring that informants and users are clearly aware of the conditions of deposit and access rests squarely on the library or archive.

This section was first published in a similar form as 'Oral history recording: a note on legal considerations' in Oral history, Vol. 4, No. 1; 1976, pp. 96-97.

Administration of the Collection

Having settled the conditions of deposit and access, collecting centres also have to ensure that they are applied. This may be less than a straightforward matter with a large collection in which copyright is not always held by the institution. The need for efficient administrative procedures is further increased by the fact that the control of further copying may be at best difficult and at worst impossible once recordings or transcripts are permitted to circulate outside the institution responsible for them. In an extreme case, of private copyright material being published without the proper clearance having been obtained the collecting centre should have made sure it can demonstrate to the copyright holder that everything reasonably possible was done to safeguard his interests.

The practical means of achieving this end will vary according to the policy of the collecting institution and, perhaps according to national laws. But the principles involved are first, to set out clearly the conditions under which access is granted to an archive collection and. secondly to secure the user's formal agreement to those conditions. Parts of two administrative documents which have been designed and used for these kinds of purposes are reproduced below as examples:-


(iv) The Department's recordings and transcripts are sold on the understanding that they are for the private use of the purchaser only. No commercial use of the material is permitted, neither may it be copied or otherwise reproduced in any form whatsoever without the prior written permission of the Keeper of the Department of Sound Records.

(v) Certain recordings and transcripts in which the Museum does not hold the copyright may be purchased by bona fide educational establishments. A senior representative (e.g. head of department) must sign a declaration which prescribes the use which will be made of such material before copies will be provided. The Department reserves the right to limit the quantity of recordings and transcripts which are not Museum copyright that any single establishment may purchase.

(vi) In all cases except (v) above copies of recordings and transcripts in which the Museum does not hold the copyright will only be provided after written permission has been obtained by the user from the appropriate copyright holder.

I have read and agree to abide by the terms under which private copyright recordings/transcripts* are sold by the Museum. I declare that:-

1    The recordings will not be used for any purpose whatsoever other than that for which they are ordered; namely
2    The recordings/transcripts* will only be used on the premises of this establishment.
3    No further copies whatsoever will be made of the recordings/transcripts* supplied by the Museum.

Name_________________________ Position_______________________________



*Please delete as appropriate

It should be said that most users of reference collections are responsible people, who probably themselves recognise that the existence and development of the archive services they are using need to be controlled against those few who are not. For its part, the collecting institution should ensure that these procedures are not a handicap to any proper use of its materials but only a safeguard against abuse.

9. Equipment

Portable Recorders

The apparent choice facing the oral historian in selecting a recording machine is between open reel and cassette recorders. Much has been written about the relative merits of these two alternatives, particularly as regards portability and ease of operation.

In the sector which equipment manufacturers refer to as the domestic market (in Britain this could be marked as the retail price range of £15.00 to £50.00)1 the question of choice between open reel and cassette portable recording equipment does not really arise. One of the consequences of the cassette 'revolution' of the 1970s is that manufacturers have phased out the production of inexpensive open reel recorders and replaced them entirely by cassette machines. If budgets are restricted to this lower end of the equipment price range, then a cassette recorder it has to be (unless recourse is made to the second hand market).

Apart from the very cheapest, the recording quality which cassette machines in this price range can achieve does not vary very greatly. The universal principle that the more you spend the more you get still operates, but it applies less to the sound quality of which the more expensive models are capable and rather more to the additional features which they usually incorporate. For example, they may have manual as well as automatic recording level controls and sockets for external microphones. These features are often not provided on the cheaper recorders and they are essential requirements for oral historians who are concerned with the technical quality of their recordings. Additionally, reliability of performance and robustness of construction generally increase in direct proportion to the cost. Oral historians need reliability of operation in the field because they are not usually able to correct breakdowns themselves. Robustness of construction promises a longer working life for the recorder, with the result that a higher initial investment may turn out to be a longer term economy.

Relatively cheap cassette recorders can be used to quite good advantage. Observance of common sense recording practices (see Chapter 5) is obviously essential. The use of microphones which are built in to the cassette recorder is to be abhorred. By employing an external microphone the noises made within the machine it· self are not recorded and an audibly better quality recording will be produced. The choice of cassette tape is equally important. All recorders are set up for a particular tape type and the machine will produce significantly better results if one of the brands recommended by the manufacturer is used.

Next in the order of recording equipment comes a large group of cassette machines most of which, on the British market, fall within the price range of £70.00 to £200.00. The bulk of this equipment is designed for home recording and playback purposes and to be mounted as part of the living room furniture along with the radio and other audio systems. Although much of this equipment is capable of quite a high technical performance, the convenient recording application of such machines is generally confined to copying radio broadcasts and commercial recordings. This range of recorders, not being truly portable, therefore falls outside the useful area of choice for interviewing purposes.

For recording to a high technical standard, the principal drawback of the cassette format arises from the difficulty of obtaining a good frequency response with acceptable noise and distortion levels. To minimise the inherent limitations of the cassette recorder, various noise reduction systems are employed with the more expensive machines of which the Dolby process is the best known and most widely used. Without such devices the technical performance of cassette machines cannot compete with that of reel to reel equipment. But with the incorporation of such aids, the character of the cassette recorder also begins to alter. In short, it ceases to be a highly portable and inexpensive machine.

In terms both of cost and performance, portable cassette and open reel recorders are only truly in direct competition with each other at the upper end of the audio market. At this level, of the so-called professional and semi-professional machines, prices vary from about £250.00 to over £1,000.00. Cassette recorders in this price range are fully capable of achieving as good a technical performance as similarly priced open reel machines. In some respects, however, the usual advantages of the cassette format are neutralised at this level, while in others the open reel format is to be preferred.

For example, the weight and size of these cassette recorders are comparable to that of open reel equipment, so that the portability factor is no longer so relevant to choice. Secondly, the operating parameters are less critical on open reel machines, so that recording results are less likely to be unsatisfactory through inconsistent use by the operator. Thirdly open reel recorders in the category of the Uher 4000 series, for example, are machines of proven reliability and durability. While cassette equipment may prove to be satisfactory in these respects, as yet the evidence is not available for this to be claimed for it with any certainty. Logically one might expect them to stand up to a heavy work load less well than open reel recorders, if only because many of their components are physically smaller. A degree of wear which would not significantly affect the performance of an open reel machine could be critical on a cassette recorder.

The physical slightness of a cassette machine's parts certainly can be a disadvantage. For example, a speck of dust on its narrow recording head can prevent the cassette tape from making proper contact with the head. The same size particle on the much wider recording head of an open reel recorder could have no noticeable effect. Maintenance and servicing will also need to be more stringent for the cassette than the open reel machine. If the collecting centre does not have its own technical staff, it will therefore be even more dependent on equipment manufacturers or service agents for maintaining its recorders in good running order.

It should be said that compact cassette tape is not without advantages. It is cheaper, easier to carry and less demanding on storage space. But against this, its suitability for long term preservation is at best uncertain. In this respect, quarter inch tape -which has been stored in some archives for a quarter of a century without serious degradation -is very much more of a known quantity. Whereas interviews recorded on appropriate open reel tape can with some confidence be treated as preservation copies, oral historians recording on cassette would be very strongly advised to transfer their interviews onto the larger format for conservation purposes.

Despite the remarkable advances which have been made in cassette technology during the past few years, the balance of advantage continues to rest decisively in favour of the open reel recorder. Collecting centres that need a consistently high quality of recording, reliable and durable equipment and a tape format with the maximum assured lasting qualities should spend their money on open reel machines.

In selecting an open reel recorder, separate microphone sockets for the interviewer and informant are a useful feature. It is somewhat easier to achieve an equal balance on both voices when the levels from the two speakers can be separately controlled. Even more important, however, is the greater flexibility which separate microphones as regards the positioning of interviewer and informant (see also Chapter 5).

Some mono and all stereo recorders have this facility of two microphone inputs. Stereo machines have an additional advantage which can be useful when making a copy tape. As the two microphones record on separate tracks, any extraneous noises recorded via the non-speaker's microphone can be turned down during the transfer so that such defects are not carried onto the copy. Apart from this feature, stereo recorders have no particular advantage over mono machines for recording two fixed voices.

Open reel equipment can record to full, half and quarter track configurations. Full track recording affords the maximum technical advantages but is, of course, most expensive in tape and storage space. Quarter track machines should be avoided, despite the attraction of minimising the amount of tape which needs to be carried. The narrower the track width the greater is the effect of the electronic and hiss noises recorded. On the other hand, the wider the track the less effect damage to any particular part of the tape will have on the overall signal recorded.

One feature of all portable recorders, except the most expensive, is that the recording level meters are too limited to provide good monitoring of the signal levels. With most models it takes considerable experience to interpret needle movement. Practice and familiarity with the equipment will enable interviewers to compensate for this inadequacy and, if in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of under recording your tape than of overloading it.

Having considered the main principles involved in choosing a portable recorder, what machines may be recommended? The range of domestic cassette equipment is so wide that the size of your purse and the advice of a specialist retailer are the most useful guidelines. In contrast the range of open reel equipment is quite small. The Nagra and Stel1avox recorders are the most sophisticated and expensive machines. Below these, the Uher 4000 series is the most widely used portable in Europe, and the Sony TC 510 its main competitor. Portable cassette recorders capable of a comparable technical performance include the Sony TC 158, the Nakamichi 550, the JVC KD2B or CD 1635, and the Uher CR 240.

  1. All prices quoted in this chapter are those applying at the end of 1977.


Although the range of microphones available is extremely wide. the choice is at least narrowed once the collecting centre has decided what recording equipment it should use. As a general rule it is a waste of money to purchase an expensive microphone for use with a cheap recorder and equally improvident to buy a poor quality microphone for employment with a high quality recording machine. The best relative results are obtained when the two items are of a complementary standard.

The cheapest microphones - those falling within the price range of, say, £2.00 to £10.00 - tend to have an uneven frequency response. As they react less sensitively to the higher and lower voice frequencies they often result in a rather 11at recording on which the full speech range is not represented. Such microphones also frequently emphasise and distort on the tape voice sibilants and hard consonants such as p's and b's: the former produces recordings on which the voice sounds very harsh and the latter a sort of popping effect. These distortions very often occur when the microphones sold with some of the cheaper recorders are used. In such cases the overall recording quality may be slightly improved by buying a separate and better quality microphone.

Some microphones are more prone than others to what is termed "handling noise'. This is noise caused by friction of the hand against the microphone case stand or cable. With clip microphones the effect also occurs through the microphone or cable rubbing against the clothing of the person it is attached to. This problem is insidious because handling noise is completely inaudible when the interview is being recorded but on playback is reproduced as thunder or loud crackling and can devastate the recording.

In addition to complementing the quality of the recorder, these are certain principles which should be followed in selecting a microphone for interviewing purposes. They should be small and light for easy porterage and unobtrusive use but sufficiently robust in construction to take minor knocks without damage to their performance. A sensitive and even response across the voice frequency range is needed but they should be insensitive to handling noise. Table microphones should also have a directional pattern which gives them a ~blind' side that can be faced to any extraneous sound sources which may be evident in a particular recording environment.

There are two general types of microphone construction which can be considered for interview recording. These are the moving coil (more commonly referred to as the dynamic type) and the electret capacitor microphones. The moving coil is by far the most common type available. It is manufactured in various forms, the different characteristics of which are mainly concerned with directional sensitivity. For interviewing, the most suitable pattern is provided with the so-called uni-directional or cardioid type of microphone. These will discriminate against sounds striking the back of the microphone and. thereby provide a degree of protection against some unwanted noise. They are, broadly speaking, equally sensitive to sounds from the front or sides of the microphone

Electret capacitor microphones are quite a recent development and, like the dynamic types, are available with different directional characteristics. Their principal advantage is that they combine an extremely high performance with a relatively modest price. In these terms -of cost relative to quality -microphones of this kind represent remarkable value for money. Interviewers who are generally uneasy with recording equipment, may be put off by the additional impedimenta of the miniature batteries and amplifier needed to power these microphones. However, since they are up to 50% cheaper than dynamic microphones of comparable performance, there is a strong financial incentive for overcoming any such prejudices.

Clip microphones are particularly suitable for interviewing purposes (see also Chapter 5), especially when they can be separately provided for both the interviewer and informant. They permit close microphone placement without disturbing the informant in the way that the more obtrusive types of larger microphones sometimes do. This enables the interviewer to minimise many extraneous sounds, by setting the recording level at a point where such noises are significantly diminished, but which is at the same time sufficient for satisfactorily recording the voice. Acoustic problems are also conveniently reduced with this kind of microphone, since it is so close to the speaker that his body shields it from a great deal of the reflected sound. As clip microphones can be attached to a stable part of the speaker's clothing, their use also obviates variations in the recording level which often occur when informants change their positions relative to a table-mounted or other fixed microphone.

Until the advent of the electret capacitor type, clip microphones - except some very expensive studio models - tended to be relatively bulky and to have a somewhat lower technical performance than conventional microphones. The introduction of the electret type has led to a significant further miniaturisation of models and at a cost that brings them within the range of many historians.

Among the electret capacitor clip microphones, the Sony ECM 50 -now in wide use within the broadcasting industry - is a good though expensive (at about £100.00) choice for use with professional and semi-professional recorders. There are, however, other makes available in the price range of £15.00 to £30.00 which give excellent results. These are marketed by various companies and the Sony ECM 150, Lawtronics LM23 and Eagle PRO M60 are among the best known in Britain. Table microphones, of the dynamic type (cardioid pattern) referred to earlier, suitable for use with recorders in the category of the Uher series and cassette machines of comparable performance include the AKG D190 (approximately £40.00) and D200 (approximately £60.00) and the Beyer M81 (approximately £30.00) and M69 (approximately £60.00). The electret capacitor microphone is also available in tab1e versions with the cardioid pattern recommended for interviewing purposes. These are manufactured by various companies including Sony and Eagle and are somewhat cheaper (£12.00 to £40.00) than dynamic types of comparable performance. Oral historians using relatively cheap cassette recorders would be advised to seek the advice of equipment manufacturers or a specialist retailer, whilst also bearing in mind the general guidelines given in this section.

Copying Equipment

If the size of the recording programme and the range of material being acquired justifies it, a comprehensive sound archive processing system may need to be set up. This would include an appropriate number and variety of playback and copying machines, with control equipment that provides accurate aural and visual monitoring of the original recording and copies during the transfer operations. The system might also incorporate appropriate tone controls and filters, which -with judicious use - can compensate for certain acoustic shortcomings on original recordings, and include devices that can be used to reduce tape hiss levels without detriment to the original signal quality.

The typical oral history collecting centre would not require such an elaborate arrangement but all libraries and archives concerned with safeguarding their recordings should endeavour to produce a duplicate of each interview and set one of their recordings aside as a preservation copy. For this purpose a basic archival copying facility can be set up with two tape machines which should, ideally, be reserved for this application.

In any transfer operation some quality loss between the copy and the original recording is inevitable. With appropriate equipment and care this loss is very slight, however, and the copy - for all practical purposes - can be made indistinguishable from its parent. To achieve this the copying equipment must be capable of at least an equal technical performance to the machine on which the interview was recorded. If it is of an even higher technical standard, so much the better, as the quality loss which always occurs during copying will then be minimal.

Open reel portable recorders of the kind on which oral history interviews are recorded should be pressed into service for archival processing only if there is no alternative. Such machines are not well suited to this role. They often have performance limitations, particularly as regards the tape types and spool sizes they are capable of handling. There is, however, quite a wide range of table mounting open reel equipment produced for the discriminating domestic market and semi-professional use which meets the requirements of collecting centres. The major manufacturers of such machines are Revox, Ferrograph, Tandberg, Sony and Uher and prices of appropriate models start at about £300.00 in Britain.

If some or all of the interviews are recorded on cassette the copying system will obviously have to include at least one cassette playback machine. As with open reel equipment, the original recorder should not be used for this purpose. Cassette machines which employ Wollensack decks provide the kind of reliability needed for archive purposes; suitable models are manufactured by Neal in Britain and by Advent in the United States. Otherwise any top of the range domestic machines produced by the major manufacturers may be used.


All tape machines are adjusted by the manufacturer to give best results with a particular type of magnetic tape. For recording and archival processing collecting centres should only use one of the brands recommended by the manufacturer.

The heads of tape machines should be regularly checked and thoroughly cleaned of tape dust and particles by means of cotton swab sticks dampened with isopropyl alcohol, methylated spirits or one of the proprietary cleaners produced for this purpose. Heads will also benefit by being thoroughly demagnetised from time to time with the devices manufactured for this purpose.

Perhaps the most critical aspect in the proper functioning of tape machines is that recording and replay heads should always be parallel to each other and, ideally, perpendicular to the tape. As it is all too easy for heads to get out of alignment, the only safeguard for collecting centres without technical staff is to have all their tape machines professionally serviced at regular intervals.

10. Magnetic tape

In the early phase of its technology, magnetic tape could be universally described as brown with one side shiny and the other dull. This description is today the exception rather than the rule. Tape coatings now come in varying shades from light brown to black. Tape backings range from black to brown to red or pink and even yellow, green and blue. Tape textures may be shiny, silk or matt. Tape thicknesses are identified as standard play, long play, double play and even triple and quadruple play. Perhaps most confusing of all are the manufacturers descriptions of their tapes as being low noise, low print, high output, extended frequency range and so on. Finally, cassette products come in another host of forms; ferrous, super-ferrous, chromium dioxide, ferrous-chrome and cobalt - all claiming various advantages.

The tape scene can indeed be confusing, even to the initiated. What then can the oral historian make of it? What is 'good' tape?

Quite a long list can be drawn up of the characteristics which would be desirable for the ideal all-purpose magnetic tape. It should combine good physical strength and flexibility; it needs a chemically inert base, yet one which binds well to the oxide coating; the coating itself should give good sensitivity, exclude distortion, preclude magnetic noise and have a low print-through characteristic; the oxide layer should have a high Signal handling capability without reducing the tape's upper frequency capacity and the texture of the tape should facilitate smooth and even winding.

Unfortunately such a model tape does not exist. Many of the desirable qualities mentioned above are conflicting ones and by incorporating some of these characteristics into their products tape manufacturers unavoidably exclude some others which are mutually incompatible. As a result all tapes are something of a compromise, being geared more to one application than another. The best choice of tape is in large measure influenced by the particular use in mind and, ideally, different types should be selected for different machines and purpose.

The tape characteristics and certain brands which can be recommended are set out below under the three main activities which collecting centres are generally engaged in.

Recording Tape

Most portable open reel recorders are not capable of giving their highest possible performance with standard play tape. This is because they have a relatively weak spool torque, which does not give the best head to tape contact with the stiff standard play tapes. For most interviewing applications the greater flexibility , better frequency response and longer playing time provided by long play and double play tape are of overall greater value than the higher signal handling capability, lower print-through characteristics and greater physical strength of standard play tapes. Triple or quadruple play tape, being extremely thin and easily damaged, should be avoided.

Since the original interview will be the recording from which all subsequent copies are derived, it is obviously worth ensuring that one of the best tapes for the purpose is used. Any distortions or hiss due to the shortcomings of the original tape cannot be corrected merely by using a better tape for later copies. Therefore, a tape should be selected for recording purposes which has good signal handling capability with low distortion, low noise characteristics and acceptable print-through figures. Among the range of long play products available BASF LP35, Agfa PEM 368, Ampex 407 and EMI 825 can be used with confidence. Suitable double play tapes include BASF DP26 and Agfa PEM 268. If double play tape is used for recording purposes it is advisable that a standard play preservation copy is made from the original within a week or two of the interview. Other tapes may be appropriate but beware of using unbranded or unproven tapes if you do not have the technical facilities to test them. The advice of the tape machine manufacturer should also be used in conjunction with the above suggestions.

For cassette recording, the best advice which can be offered is to follow the advice of equipment manufacturers (unless you find a brand that gives better results) and avoid the thin tapes marketed as C90s and C120s. It may also be prudent to limit your choice to the major manufacturers. Chrome tapes, which are attractive from the point of view of their extended frequency response, on balance give more problems than benefits. They have been found to wear out machine heads more rapidly than the ferrous types and have unsatisfactory distortion and print through characteristics.

Archival Tape

For long term storage any of the major professional standard play tapes can be recommended. Although print-through (the tendency of the signal recorded on one layer of tape to imprint itself on adjacent layers) is not the danger on modern polyester tapes that it proved to be on some of the early acetate products, it is best to avoid tapes which have poor print-through characteristics or are of unknown pedigree for preservation copies. In order of their print-through specifications, the following tape brands are all suitable for archive purposes: Racal Zonal Low Print (which has substantially the best print-through characteristics) EMI 816 and 815, Agfa PER525 and PEM468, BASF SPR50LH, Ampex 406, Scotch 262 and Zonal 666.

The tape backing can be of an important feature on archive tapes. Of the products named in the preceding paragraph, Zonal Low Print and EMI 815 have a shiny backing and need to be wound with some care to avoid ridging (or edging) -which makes them vulnerable to physical damage and general unevenness of the tape. The other brands are all tapes which have a textured backing. This gives a smooth even wind even when spooling at high speeds. If archive tapes are liable to fast winding then a textured tape is the best choice. If tapes are always shelved 'end out' after having been wound at a standard recording speed then - even if shiny backed - they will not usually be prone to edging.

Reference Tapes

Most major brands of tape with good all round print-through and signal handling qualities may be used for the public reference copies of the record collection. On balance long play tape provides the maximum advantages of cost, durability and space economy.

Cassette tapes have certain advantages for reference purposes. They are less vulnerable to physical damage by inexperienced handlers; they provide a cheap, convenient and compact reference medium; and they can be easily 'detagged' as a safeguard against accidental erasure. General advice on selecting cassettes is given in section 1 above.

11. Preservation

The most detailed and authoritative advice available on the long term preservation of magnetic tape recordings can be found in Factors Relating to Long Term Storage of Magnetic Tape, published for limited circulation by EMI Ltd Central Research Laboratories in May 1976. This report is reprinted in full in the July 1977 issue of the Phonographic Bulletin (Number 18). Copies are available to members of the International Association of Sound Archives or by subscription and can be obtained through the Secretary of IASA.1 The advice given in this section summarises the main factors relating to tape preservation and is intended as a basic guide for institutions who may not be able to apply fully professional sound archive procedures.

(1) The Medium
The most important single safeguard against the deterioration of archive recordings is the use of an appropriate tape. Tape characteristics and brands suitable for preservation copies are dealt with in Chapter 10.

(2) The Environment
The recommended conditions for magnetic tape storage are those within the temperature range 7 to 13°C (approximately 45 to 55°F), with relative humidity between the limits 40 to 60% and a magnetic environment not in excess of 10 oersteds. Collecting centres without the use of fully control1ed storage facilities can nonetheless avoid clearly unsuitable locations. As a general guide tapes may be stored in areas in which there is a dry and comfortable working temperature that is not subject to variations of more than 10°C between its upper and lower limits. The area must not be adjacent to any strong magnetic fields (the most common sources of which are power cables and electrical distribution points) or have magnetic devices such as loudspeakers and microphones placed in the vicinity.

(3) Winding
Before storage, tapes should be properly wound. Most good quality tape machines (see Chapter 9) will give the kind of firm -but not too tight -and even wind that is necessary to provide a smooth edge across the full length of the tape. This will avoid the possibility of any tape layers standing proud of their neighbours, which are particularly vulnerable to damage (see also Chapter 10).

(4) Tape Spools

Archive tapes should be stored on spools no less than 7" in diameter. Smaller spools have narrow hubs around which the tape is very tightly curved and consequent stress patterns at the centre of the reel can permanently deform the tape. The spool should also be strong with as little 'window' area in the flange as possible, so that it provides the tape with good physical support and protection.

(5) Tape Containers
If they are not made of metal or plastic material tape cartons should be of a sturdy cardboard construction with a low acid content. As an additional refinement hermetically sealed plastic bags give some protection against airborne dust particles.

(6) Checking and Testing
Routine rewinding (yearly or two yearly) of tapes may reduce print-through effects and is also useful for reversing the curvature -and thereby relieving the stress patterns -which is set up in tapes stored in one position over a long period of time. A periodic visual inspection should also be made to check that archive copies are not deteriorating in storage through warping or fungal attack. Only by playing the tape, however, can it be established whether any magnetic degradation has taken place or whether the results of any physical damage have affected the tape's replay characteristics. In such an eventuality the only remedial action that can be taken is to copy the recording onto new tape.

(7) Conclusion
Few professional archives have the resources to apply the full range of recommended conservation practices. It may be that collecting centres with small tape collections can afford higher standards! A good archive tape, a stable storage environment and well wound tapes on suitable spools are standards which most collecting centres should be able to afford and which represent reasonable insurance for the long term safety of archive tapes.

  1. For membership and subscription details contact David Lance, Secretary lASA, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SEI 6HZ, England.

12. Use

The number and variety of uses to which oral history materials are suited have been frequently described (some of them are set out in Chapter 2). Several of these applications have been more suggested than realised, however, and even the most widely recognised use - as source material for books and articles - has been on a relatively small scale. As measured by public demand and exploitation tapes and transcripts are not widely acknowledged as archive materials and still remain a comparatively novel record form.

Collecting centres are generally more preoccupied with acquisition than with use. The potential of the materials they hold is often left to others to recognise and exploit, while librarians and archivists perform more passive roles. This may be a satisfactory arrangement for traditional and established reference collections. However, printed, documentary, photographic, film and artistic records have established their market places; oral history and other sound recordings have only been somewhat lightly and tentatively employed. The costly process of oral history creation, in addition to the novelty of the resultant products, makes it politic and necessary for administrators of these materials to be more vigorous in the exploitation of their resources than is typical of institutional collectors. Other considerations apart, future funding of their recording programmes may well depend on showing a dividend which is commensurate to the investment they involve.

At the institution on whose experience this publication is based, most of the identified uses for oral history materials have been tried with varying degrees of success. This has involved not simply permitting these uses but in several cases actually initiating them. It has seemed to be the case that, to achieve wide application of an oral history archive, many of the potential uses may have to be pioneered by the archive itself before they are imitated. Certainly where clients exist they must be informed and encouraged; when potential users can be identified, they have to be educated; and very likely - since the use of tapes and transcripts may still be in its infancy - new markets await creation.

This final section of An Archive Approach to Oral History therefore, summarises the practical experience of one collecting centre, in some areas for the application and dissemination of recordings and transcripts.

Radio Broadcasting

In many countries where the radio medium is confined mainly to the dissemination of news and music, there will probably be no place for oral history in broadcasting. Where a broadcasting service exists whose output includes educational and cultural programmes of a fairly serious nature, then there is an application for oral history recordings in radio programming. There is a minimum technical standard which has to be achieved for this purpose, but the level is not unrealistically exacting for oral historians who have paid attention to basic recording skills (see Chapter 5).

Radio compilation is closely analogous to historical method. It involves research, selection and composition. These, being already acquired skills of the historian, do not require a great deal of adaptation in preparing radio broadcasts. Any themes selected with broadcasting in mind have to be fairly strong and bald if they are to be effective. The medium does not lend itself to the qualified or microsmic statements which historians are accustomed to make. Apart from anything else, the maximum length of radio programmes - usually forty five minutes - only permits the communication of historical generalisation. For this reason one anecdote may be more useful for broadcasting purposes than the most authoritatively refined but unillustrated comment.

While some of the characteristics of radio programming may fail to satisfy the historian, the medium offers its own interesting compensations. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is the satisfaction of publishing oral history in the form in which it is collected. This opportunity, more than any other application, does focus attention on the limitations of the transcript. It is clear that the conversion of the spoken word into a documentary form does have limitations. Attitudes, emotions, prejudices and personalities become flattened and are converted into a uni-dimensional approximation of what the informant tried to convey. The mosaic of information which the oral history recording represents, when used by the historian and the radio producer, makes radio programming an exciting application because it provides an opportunity to communicate those elements of oral history which cannot be put onto paper.

The main obstacle to achieving radio publication lies in the difficulty of persuading broadcasters to interest themselves in the oral history archive as a source of raw material. Several things militate against this. The time involved in listening, identifying potential themes, and selecting suitable material is perhaps the biggest handicap for producers who work to tight journalistic deadlines. Additionally, broadcasters usually prefer to do their own interviewing with a specific programme purpose in mind, than to edit material which others have collected for different reasons. It is likely, however, that broadcasting attitudes to oral history collections will change once the informants required for radio programmes are known only to 'survive' in an archival or library repository.

For so long as broadcasters do not naturally turn to oral history collections for programme purposes, a not inconsiderable effort is required on the part of the collecting centre to encourage this kind of use. Developed themes may have to be proposed and supported by suitable recordings before a potential radio programme will be taken up by a producer. Is the application worth this amount of effort? If the recordings are original and important then obviously they deserve as large an audience as can be reached. Secondly, broadcasting can provide a major and free source of publicity which will stimulate public use of the archive collection itself. Finally, initiatives in this field produce dividends in the longer term as broadcasters themselves become more familiar with oral history resources.1

  1. Radio feature programmes based entirely on IWM oral history recordings are:
    Icarus with an oil can; compiled and presented by David Lance and produced by Michael Mason; BBC Radio 4; 1975.
    The loneliest men; compiled and presented by Margaret Brooks and produced by Michael Mason; BBC Radio 4; 1976.

Audio Publications

Commercial audio publications based on spoken word recordings have not been particularly numerous or successful. The notable exceptions have mostly used recordings of eminent speakers dealing contemporarily with great events.1 This application for oral history recordings, like that of radio broadcasting, has not been much developed. There are, however, some reasons for believing that energetic pioneering by the collecting centres themselves may be justified, at least in the educational field.

A process which has been concurrent with developments in oral history, is the changing attitudes of educationists to the schools' history syllabus. Increasingly, the trend in modern history teaching has been to emphasise less the records of governments, international disputes and great leaders, and to concentrate more on social change and the history of people with whom most of us can more directly associate.

For many aspects of history teaching the traditional reliance on books will undoubtedly continue. In the Imperial War Museum's field of study, for example, there is no shortage of teaching materials relating to the politics, strategy and military tactics of the First World War. What is more difficult to obtain from and communicate through printed sources, is the way in which the war affected the day to day lives of ordinary people at that time. What did the soldier eat at the front and how was the food issued and prepared? What personal health and hygiene problems were created by the acute and persistent physical discomforts of life in the trenches? What was it really like to be weighed down by the enormous loads which footsoldiers had to carry on their backs and in their hands, and how did these burdens affect their ability to carry out the tasks which were set for them?

Answers to questions of this kind are basic components of history and it is this quality of information in which oral history recordings are particularly rich. For example:

'We had this BF wireless set No 1. This was about the size of a table sewing machine but very much heavier. It had a leather strap over the top for carrying. It was made of teak, ebonite and brass; it weighed a ton. To get the signals going we had to have a big accumulator. It was big, heavy and very awkward to carry. So that was two things that were terrible awkward to carry. There was a roll of brass mat or it might have been copper -that was an earth mat. That as 1 remember it was about thirty yards long. Then we had two sets of tubular masts. They were eighteen feet masts; six lengths of three feet. And aerial wire; 1 think that ran to about sixty yards -but where we were going to put sixty yards of aerial wire in the trenches, 1 don't know. Then we had stanchions. We had loads and loads of dry cells for operating the receiver. We had ropes. Mallet of course and pegs.

'I think that was the entire wireless equipment but our own personal equipment was terrible because we were in what was called "battle order". Which meant that we had our overcoats on; we had a blanket rolled and twisted over our shoulder; we wore bandoliers with sixty rounds; we had a rifle on our back; we had a gas mask on the front; we had iron rations in a pocket in the tunic and we had first-aid kit in our pockets.

'So one way and other it was terrible difficult to move with all the stuff, particularly when the officer assembled us and said "Now right, Neyland and Sellers you're the operators, you’ll take this and that". We had four infantry men and they were all clobbered up with similar battle order and they found it difficult to get a roll of wire or whatever it was under their arms.

'We started off as well as we could to giving an even share but during the trip across No Man's Land, into shell holes and out of them, down into trenches and up the other side, these infantry chaps - they were quite boys, they were only eighteen years of age and some of them were crying - they had to be relieved of their loads, you see. And it was hard going because in addition to carrying these loads through mud-filled shell holes and taking cover  -such as it was - whenever we could, because there was shrapnel falling above our heads all the time; so that although we started off with the best of good will in the world by the time we finished some of us were carrying more than our allotted weight of stuff while others could hardly carry themselves across'. 2

Not only is the subject content of many oral history recording projects relevant to current teaching needs but their medium of recorded sound offers practical teaching benefits. Through the immediate quality of the spoken word, the common experience is most effectively highlighted. With a short tape a wealth of experience and understanding can be conveyed, which the teacher himself would take longer to communicate second hand and very much less effectively.

Academic historians - for all their subject expertise - may not, however, be sufficiently sensitive to current curriculum needs and the practical problems of the classroom to produce the most relevant audio teaching aids from their archive collections. For its part the collecting centre is seldom equipped or qualified in the fields of marketing and distribution (or able to accept the financial risk involved in publishing) to make a success of this kind of venture. Audio-visual publications are, however, being increasingly carried by major educational publishers, and cooperation with such commercial organisations is probably the safest and most effective way to develop the use of oral history materials in this field. Recent experience suggests that educational publishers are alive to the teaching potential of archive collections and if current experiments3 prove to be commercially viable the way may be opened to substantial use of oral history in the classroom.

  1. An outstanding example of commercially published spoken word recordings is: Churchill, Sir W. His memoirs and his speeches; Decca (WSC 1-12); 1964.
  2. Neyland, B.: oral history interview: IWM Ref. 318/08/04; 1974.
  3. The first such studio publication in Britain to be based entirely upon oral history recordings is: Western front; compiled by Tony Howarth; London: Longman (in association with the Imperial War Museum); 1978.

Exhibition Aids

Although museum displays are often extremely accurate representations of previous life and culture, one of the most striking features of many exhibitions is that they rely on static, visual materials for their effect. No matter how imaginatively the artefacts and other objects are used, exhibitions can only be an approximation of history. It would be an overstatement to claim that oral history recordings bridge the gap between representation and reality, but they can bring museum displays one step closer to this end. They achieve this closer approximation to historical reality by the dramatic 'association of physical objects with people who made them meaningful. The recording can therefore provide a novel dimension and is an effective addition to the exhibition designer's range of tools. Display tapes, in common with teaching tapes, require precision and brevity of statement. They are used most effectively when they combine a variety of speakers and a range of subject content in short and pithy juxtaposition.

As an example of exhibition use, there was a section of the Imperial War Museum's galleries dealing with the outbreak of the First World War, in which a life size reproduction of an army recruiting office was erected. This contained authentic examples of military and civilian dress, details of enlistment procedures, and recruiting posters -including the very famous one of Lord Kitchener, whose face and finger so effectively summoned men to volunteer with the caption "Your Country Needs You". On its own, this group conveyed only a little of the contemporary patriotism and enthusiasm for the war; the ingenious lengths to which many civilians went in order to join the country's armed forces; and the hasty, ill-prepared and almost amateur endeavours by which the large British volunteer army was eventually put into the field. In association with this display the following tape was incorporated which does capture in some degree the mood of the period and gives background and depth to what is being displayed:

'These local service battalions were all Kitchener's Army men. And that poster - "Your King and Country Needs You" -whichever angle you looked at it from, it was pointing at you. When you approached it, when you got past it, if you turned around and looked at it, he was still pointing at you.1

‘I'd left the office which was in Southampton Row, went along to Armoury House, which was at City Road trying to enlist at the time. So I went right up to the front and into the gates where I was met by a Sergeant-Major at a desk. And the Sergeant said "Are you willing to join?" I said "Yes Sir". He said "How old are you?" I said "I'm eighteen and one month". He said "Do you mean nineteen and one month?" So I thought a moment. I said "Yes sir". He said "Righto, well sign here please.2

'I went to the recruiting office at Harlesden and when I confronted the recruiting officer he said that I was too young, although I'd said that I was eighteen years of age. He said "Well I think you're too young son". He said "You come back. Come back in another year or so". I returned home. I never said anything to my parents and I picked up my bowler hat -which my mother had bought me and which was only taken in to wear on Sundays - and I donned that thinking it would make me look older. And I presented myself to the recruiting office again. This times there was no queries and I was accepted.'3

'August the 17th 1914 was the day I joined up. I received the King's Shilling at Francis Street, Woolwich and from there I was given a railway warrant to go to Hounslow. I got out of the station and enquired the way to the Royal Fusiliers' Barracks and went there; walked through the gate; and for the first time in my life I found there was a guard room just inside the gate. And the Sergeant very quickly said "And where do you think you're going?" I said "I've come to join the Royal Fusiliers."4

'Really we did very little training because there were too many people there. I don't know how many there were but it must have run into thousands. They equipped us as far as clothing went -with much difficulty. Many of us had to sleep out in the grounds outside the barracks; the rest on the floor in the barrack rooms; no beds or anything like that. There was about one plate and one mug for probably twenty people -we had to buy our own if we could. There was absolutely no arrangement really made at all -typically English!5

Like several other applications which are mentioned in this section, lack of knowledge or professional prejudice can militate against the use of oral history material in displays. Exhibition designers are rather reluctant to rely on playback machines which are liable to break down and thereby, if only temporarily, leave a gap in their creations. There are some grounds for their reservations. Continuous playback, which is often required, puts a considerable workload on audio equipment which has usually been adapted for exhibition purposes rather than designed for it. Localising the sound reproduction also presents problems. If the exhibition needs a standard audio level throughout the display area, this may require careful positioning of many loudspeakers at different points and heights and a fairly elaborate arrangement of equipment and wiring that takes careful planning and craftsmanship to conceal. However, despite these practical problems there are many examples to be seen 6 (and heard) of exhibitions which are enhanced by the complementary use of recordings with other display materials.

  1. Smith, H.: oral history interview ; IWM Ref. 45/06/01; 1973.
  2. Haine, R. L.: oral history interview; IWM Ref. 33/03/01; 1973.
  3. McIndoe, T.W. : oral history interview IWM Ref. 568/08/01; 1975.
  4. Quinnell, C.R.: oral history interview; IWM Ref. 554/18/01; 1975.
  5. Honywood, W.W.: oral history interview; IWM Ref. 302/04/01; 1974.
  6. Madame Tussauds is a pioneer and leading exponent of using audio effects in exhibitions and displays in Britain.

Archive and Library Services

The applications described above are all concerned with general forms of record dissemination. Although the widest use of the archive may be encouraged by such forms of propagation, the main task of collecting centres is to serve the needs of individual users.

In preparing a collection of oral history recordings for public access, the cassette format offers the audio reference medium best suited to the needs of the collecting institution and its users. Cassettes provide the cheapest format on which to hold recorded sound. They also give good security against damage which can be caused by inexperienced handling, as compared with the alternative open reel tape. To the advantages of economy and security can be added convenience and ease of use; cassettes and related playback equipment are more or less fool proof and listeners can be left to their own devices with relative impunity. Supervision and servicing of visitors by archive staff is, therefore, kept to a minimum.

Obviously a much more valuable service can be provided when copies of archive recordings can be made available outside the archive, than if the tapes can only be heard on the premises of the collecting centre. As microreproduction, in the form of film and fiche, has greatly facilitated the dissemination of printed and documentary records, the cassette offers similar advantages of miniaturisation and economy for audio sources. To take maximum advantage of recent developments in tape technology, the standardisation of archive units is recommended. That is to say that the collecting centre should fix a standard format for holding all of its recorded interviews (30 minutes is a convenient unit for reel or cassette recording and copying) and then ensure that any subsequent copies made for general working or public reference purposes are identical in length and content to the archive master. The administrative problems of selecting and costing material are greatly eased when the copies to be made are of a uniform length. This kind of standardisation also makes the copying process technically very much more straightforward, rapid and economic. High speed transfer equipment can produce copy tapes in a fraction of the actual running time of an item, provided the archive material is catalogued and held in a standard form that makes it unnecessary for technical staff to have to listen to the recordings which are being copied.

There is one dilemma for collecting centres which are concerned to meet the needs of every user, but yet are dealing with requests that are individual and may be unique. A teacher, for example, may want a copy tape which would involve selecting and copying short extracts from a great many reels, to produce a recording specially designed to meet his particular need. Even if such a customer can afford to pay the realistic cost of providing this kind of edited tape, the archive itself may not be able to afford the time necessary to prepare it.

The policy of the sound archive on which this publication is based is to provide only copies of whole reels. These reels are standard fifteen or thirty minute units, and the availability only of tapes limited to these running times seems to be generally acceptable to most users. The alternative, of providing short extracts, would have to be accompanied by a price supplement set at least 50% above the cost of a comparable length of material copied straight as complete units. This differential reflects the very much more labour intensive nature of selective copying.

A transcript copying service is so similar to documentary and printed photocopying services that it merits no special consideration, except in the context of which of the two oral history formats users will most commonly seek. The experience of a general sound archive, serving a wide variety of users, is that the recordings are rather more frequently used than the transcripts. But given the predilections of a sound archive, committed to its particular medium, that is perhaps to be expected. As a contribution to the omnipresent oral history debate about the status and use of transcripts as against recordings, this experience cannot be conclusive. What can be said with certainty, and proven by users' requisition forms, is that there is a significant demand for well recorded and organised tapes as well as for their typed facsimiles.

In providing an effective service for researchers, and -in the long term - for reducing the demand which the administration of such services makes on staff time, the publication of catalogues for circulation and use outside the collecting centre generally repays the cost of their preparation. An institution which is entirely dependent on in-house finding aids to provide subject access to its collection, will only be ab1c to make its materials available to users who are able to visit the repository. This obviously imposes a severe limitation on the potential use of the collection.

While the catalogues may be costly in staff time to prepare, developing them closely along the lines of the internal catalogue format can minimise the amount of rewriting or editing work involved. Once available they provide a convenient means for dealing with many internal user requests; they greatly limit the need to make separate 1ists, to deal with individual enquiries; they enable the researcher to establish whether the centre holds material relevant to his interests and would therefore be worth visiting; if a lending or sales service is offered, they can facilitate requisition or purchase without the need to visit; and -if they bring together all material on a particular subject -they provide a form of functional classification of the collection that can reduce indexing burdens within the archive.

Access and use are the life blood of collecting institutions. They represent the ends to which the processes described in the preceding chapters of this publication should be directed. It is therefore appropriate that An Archive Approach to Oral History concludes at such a point.

13. Select bibliography

On Definitions, Assessments and Methodology

  • Cregeen, E. 'Oral traditions and agrarian history in the West Highlands' in Oral history, Vol 2, No. 1; 1974
  • Cregeen, E. 'Oral sources for the social history of the Scottish Highlands and Islands' in Oral history, Vol. 2, No. 2; 1974
  • Dundes, A. The study of folklore; Englewood Cliffs N.J.: Prentice-Hal1; 1965
  • Evans, G.E. Where beards wag all; London: Faber and Faber; 1970
  • Evans, G E. 'Flesh and blood archives' in Oral history, No. 1; 1970
  • Evans, G.E. The days that we have seen; London: Faber and Faber; 1975
  • Evans, G.E. 'Approaches to interviewing' in Oral history, No. 4; 1975
  • Friedel, F. and Leutchenburg, W.E.: Debate on the importance of oral history in Proceedings of the second national colloquium, edited by Starr, L; Oral History Association, 1968
  • Goody, J. Literacy in traditional societies; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1968
  • Haley, A. 'Black history, oral history and genealogy' in The oral history review 1973
  • Harrison, N. 'Oral history and recent political history' in Oral history Vol. 1, No. 3.
  • Henige, D. 'The problem of feed-back in oral tradition' in Journal of African history, Vol. 19; 1973
  • Henige, D. The quest for chimera: the chronology of oral tradition; Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1974
  • Hoyle, N. 'Oral History' in Library trends, Vol. 21; 1972
  • Kendal, E. Oral sources and historical sources; M.A. thesis; University of Alberta; 1976
  • Lockhead, E. 'Three approaches to oral history: the journalistic, the academic, and the archival' in Journal of the Canadian oral history association, Vol. I; 1975-6
  • Menninger, R. 'Some psychological factors involved in oral history interviewing' in The oral history review 1975
  • Mulkay, M.l. 'Methodology in the sociology of science: some reflections on the study of radio astronomy' in Social science information, Vol. 13, No. 2; 1974
  • Ostry, B. 'The illusion of understanding: making the ambiguous intelligible in The oral history review 1975
  • Peate, I.C. Tradition and folk life: a Welsh view; London: Faber and Faber 1972
  • Roberts, A. 'The use of oral sources in African history' in Oral history, Vol. 4, No. 1: 1976
  • Rumics, E. 'Oral history: defining the term' in Wilson library bulletin, No. 40; 1966
  • Starr, L. "Oral history: problems and prospects' in Advances in librarianship, Vol. II; New York: Seminar Press; 1971
  • Thompson, P. 'Problems of method in oral history' in Oral history, No. 4; 1975
  • Thompson. P. The voice of the past: oral history; Oxford: Oxford University Press Opus paperback: 1978
  • Tonkin, E. 'Implications of oracy: an anthropological view' in Oral history, Vol. 3, No. 1; 1975
  • Turner, R. 'The contribution of oral evidence to labour history' in Oral history, Vol. 4. No. 1; 1976
  • Vansina, J. Oral tradition: a study in historical methodology; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965
  • Wilkie, J.W. Elitelore, Latin American Studies, Vol. 22; Los Angeles: University of California; 1973
  • Wilkie, J.W. 'Alternative views of history: historical sources and oral history' in Research in medical history, edited by Greenleaf, R.W. and Meyer, M .C.; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 1973


  • Bornat, J. 'Women's history and oral history: an outline bibliography' in Oral history. Vol. 5, No. 2; 1977
  • Fox, J. 'Bib1iography up to date' in The oral history review 1977
  • Schippers, DJ. 'Literature of oral history' in Proceedings of the second national colloquium, edited by Starr, L.; Oral History Association; 1968
  • Tonkin, E. 'Implications of oracy' in Oral history, Vo1. 3, No. I; 1975 includes a useful bibliography relating to oral history, social anthropology and African history.
  • Turner, R. 'The contribution of oral evidence to labour history' in Oral history, Vol. 4, No. 1: 1976; includes a useful bibliography relating to oral history, labour and political history.
  • Waserman, M.J. Bibliography on oral history; Oral History Association; 1975.

Professional Journals and Periodicals

Bulletin of the Canadian oral history association,
McCracken, J. and Moreau, J-P. (Eds): PO Box 301, Station "A', Case Post, OTT AWA, Ontario KIA ON3, Canada.
Journal of the Canadian oral history association,
La Care. L (Ed); PO Box 301. Station 'A', Case Post. OTTAWA. Ontario KIA ON3,
Oral history; Journal of the British Oral History Society.
Thompson, P. (Ed); published from University of Essex, Department of Sociology, COLCHESTER, Essex, England.
Oral history association newsletter,
Charlton, T.L. (Ed): published from Baylor University, Oral History Program, Box 228, WACO, Texas 76703, USA.
Oral history review
Hand, S.B. (Ed); journal of the U .S. Oral History Association published from the University of Vermont, Department of History, BURLINGTON, Vermont, USA.
Phonographic bulletin,
Schuursma, R. (Ed); journal of the International Association of Sound Archives published from stichting Film en Wetenschap, Hengeveldstraat 29 UTRECHT, The Netherlands.
Sound heritage,
Langlois, W. (Ed); journal of the Aural History Institute of British Columbia, published from the Provincial Archives, Parliament Building, VICTORIA, British Columbia V8V IX4, Canada.