Below, is a list of FAQs submitted to the Oral History Society over the years. If you would like to ask an Oral History-related question, please get in touch using our Contact page. We may choose to answer you directly but may also print your question and our response here on this page for others to see.
Legal and Ethical
This guide is intended as no more than guidance and does not constitute formal legal advice. If you need legal advice you should consult a solicitor.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and currency of the information brought together here from a wide variety of sources and experience, neither the authors nor the Oral History Society can accept liability for any consequences which may result from the use of this information for any purpose.
Is it OK to put interview material on the internet?
Only interview material for which permission has been given may be uploaded onto the internet. This means that Recording Agreements should stipulate what may or may not happen to interviews, allowing interviewees or their successors to restrict how material may be used. For digitisation projects involving online web access to oral history interviews, as far as possible interviewees should be re-contacted to confirm their consent to this kind of access. Although this might not always be a legal requirement where copyright has been assigned and there are no access restrictions, the Society nonetheless regards this as good ethical practice. Interviewees should also be made aware of the website’s take-down policy.
Is it worth keeping an interview if I think the contents are libellous or insulting or very personal or sensitive?
Yes. The first thing to do is ensure that any use of or access to the interview is clearly covered by a Recording Agreement whereby the interviewer and interviewee may decide that they wish to close access to the recording to avoid possible legal action and/or protect someone named in the interview, including the interviewee themselves. Secure storage of the interview is also paramount.
Is there indemnity insurance for oral historians?
The Oral History Society strongly advises all freelance and self-employed oral historians to take out indemnity insurance to protect them at work. The society has teamed up with Bluefin Insurance Group to offer a special rate to members for both professional indemnity and public liability insurance. Click here for more information.
Should interviewers visiting vulnerable people in their own homes be subject to a criminal records check?
Some local authorities, charities and other organisations have insisted that criminal record checks of new employees and volunteers visiting vulnerable people be carried out. In the past this has been done through the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) which was meant to prevent unsuitable people working with vulnerable groups such as children and older and disabled people. CRB was replaced in June 2013 by a new Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), details here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/disclosure-and-barring-service. The Oral History Society does not regard a criminal record check as an automatic requirement to undertake oral history interviews and recommends that projects follow previous practice.
We are a small community organisation without any institutional support. How can we insure our oral history collection?
Firstly. you can minimise the risks by keeping copies of all your interviews and associated documentation in a separate location from your originals. There are some insurers who may consider insuring archives and artefacts such as recorded interviews, and these are listed below. Inclusion here does not constitute a recommendation. Before contacting them, you need to consider how you value your archives for these purposes, e.g. how much it would cost to make new copies of them, or to restore the documents that relate to them. There is an article on this subject, ‘Valuing Archives for Insurance’ by Lieselotte Clark, in Business Archives Principles and Practice, No.75 (May 1998).
Hiscox Insurance: 25 London Road, Sittingbourne, Kent, ME10 1PE; tel. 0870 084 3777 (8am – 6pm Monday to Friday); email email@example.com; or request a quote at http://www.hiscox.com/.
Stamp Insurance Services, CGI Services Ltd, 29 Bowhay Lane, Exeter EX4 1PE, 01392 433949.
What happens in cases when an interviewee repeatedly fails to sign a recording agreement? Where an institution has paid for the recording to be made, what kinds of access are possible?
This situation can often be avoided if interviewers always obtained clearance at the time of the interview, as is recommended. However, ‘fair dealing’ access for the purposes of non-commercial research will be permissible even without a form (see next FAQ), subject to data protection restrictions. At the very least the interviewer or custodian should establish beyond reasonable doubt that the interview does not contain confidential or defamatory material. If clearance for more extensive uses, such as publication or inclusion on a website, is not available for whatever reason, such uses are not permissible.
What should I do if the police want access to interviews in my collection?
A person or organisation in possession of information relating to criminal activities is legally obliged to disclose it to the police, if legal proceedings or investigations are under way in connection with those activities. There is no legal obligation to disclose information if no investigation is in progress and there has been no approach from the police, but deliberately evading questioning by the police or being evasive or untruthful when questioned may result in you being charged with perverting the course of justice. In the course of investigations the police may obtain a court order obliging interviewers and custodians to disclose the content of interviews, thus overriding any confidentiality agreements made with interviewees. Courts may similarly require interviewers or others to give evidence based on the content of interviews.
Interviewees who are likely to provide information about criminal activities should be made aware that this may have to be disclosed to investigating police, even if access for everyone else has been restricted.
When should an interview be treated as confidential?
It’s perhaps best to assume that every interview should be treated as confidential until they have been deposited in an archive with documentation which states how it may be used. Assuming an interview is confidential means also making sure that anyone else involved is also aware of this. Transcribers should be aware that they also have duties of confidentiality which mean that an interview transcript should not be shared within anyone apart from the interviewer or other project member and that all interviews files, both recordings and transcripts should be kept in a secure place.
Most oral history projects use a volunteer agreement which sets out expectations relating to confidentiality and disclosure.
Who is this guidance for?
This guide is for people who record oral history interviews, and organisations and individuals who keep collections of oral history recordings in the four nations of the United Kingdom. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland comprise the UK and amongst them have three legal systems. However so far as the law is referred to in this document it is safe to assume that all come within the wider context of UK and European law. The Oral History Society promotes the use of oral history techniques to record the memories of those whose life stories would otherwise be lost to future generations, and encourages researchers and teachers to make use of oral history in their work.
It is essential that interviewees should have confidence and trust in interviewers, and that recordings should be available for research and other use within a legal and ethical framework which protects the interests of interviewees. The following information and guidelines are aimed at ensuring that these objectives are achieved.
Anyone involved with the creation and preservation of oral history interviews should take steps to safeguard their reputation for trustworthiness. This means ensuring that what they do is within the various UK and European laws that apply to oral history and that they have not been acting illegally. Oral historians generally speaking have a good reputation in this respect. This guidance is therefore offered as reassurance and advice to both interviewers and interviewees.
The Oral History Society believes that, while oral history work must comply with the law, legal requirements alone do not provide an adequate framework for good practice. No UK law was designed specifically to regulate oral history work; in fact no law even mentions it. Beyond legal considerations we have long held the view that oral historians should abide by a voluntary set of ethical guidelines.
For these reasons this guide covers responsibilities and obligations beyond legal requirements. Members of the Oral History Society, including those who are custodians, archivists and librarians, have agreed to abide by these guidelines.
The guidance reflects the workflow of a typical oral history interview. Much of the legal and technical detail is available not within the main guidance text but via hypertext links so that the key steps and terms can be understood and followed. There are also links to sample documents and resources.
Media and Technology
Can you suggest any audio editing software which is fairly straightforward for me to download?
For an excellent, easy to use and powerful audio editing application, you may wish to consider ‘Audacity’. You will find further information about the many features available plus links to downloading this software on their website, which can be found at the link below.
More details can be found on the Audacity website.
What should I do if I have interviews that people working in the media want to access?
An OHS media working group has prepared guidelines for working with media enquiries. View this document at the link below.
More details can be found by clicking here.
Where can I find information about caring for CDs and DVDs?
There is an online publication about caring for CDs and DVDs at the link below, produced by the National Preservation Office, British Library. Free printed copies are available on request.
More details can be found by clicking here.
Training and Volunteering
How can I become a volunteer with an oral history project?
The Oral History Society website has a section for volunteer recruitment. If you are seeking a voluntary position or would like to advertise for volunteers, please go to the volunteer pages of this website for more details.