9. Technical standards

The technical aspects of oral history work, as mentioned earlier, fall squarely within the general field of sound archivism. Such matters as equipment, tape, recording standards, copying, storage and preservation requirements have therefore been left to the technical chapter of this publication. Where there is proper concern for the technical quality of its sound documents, the oral history archive will require a similar range of portable and studio equipment as most other kinds of professional sound archives.

While oral history sound archives therefore have no technical needs that are peculiar to their field of work, there is some debate among oral historians and one that has a direct bearing on the financial aspects of planning -as regards the relative importance of the sound recording and the written document (i.e. the oral history transcript). This debate exists because many oral historians regard the tape recorder as but an electronic notebook and are only concerned that their recordings should be sufficiently audible to enable a typist to reproduce interviews in a written form. This kind of attitude to the recording is most frequently found in university centres where access to oral history collections is provided to an exclusively academic clientele. Since typescripts do provide more rapid and convenient access, this position is at least understandable when the sole interest in oral interviews lies in the research use of the information they contain. In such circumstances a strong case can be made for using a cheap cassette machine on which to record interviews.

Even for university collections, however , this argument is not entirely convincing. Its major flaw lies in the fact that interviews are oral records and their audio dimension contains a significant part of their message. The presentation of information verbally is qualitatively different from the style in which the same data would be presented in writing by the same speaker/author (the extent to which informants will seek to alter the form and content of their oral history transcripts is, perhaps, the best and most convincing evidence of this). In spoken reminiscences stress, pause, tone, pace and volume are among the characteristics of oral history interviews that the sound document alone fully and satisfactorily preserves. It is impossible to reproduce all the qualities of the oral record in a written form and the nuances of the spoken word give the sound document its own distinct character and value. Provided these audio characteristics are properly recorded and preserved, the resultant documents have wider and no less important applications than use by historians and other scholars. Thus in broadcasting and audio publication, in museums and elsewhere for exhibition purposes and in schools and colleges as teaching aids -as well as in scholarly use -lies the fullest application and dividend of oral history.