Archiving and providing access to your oral history

Introduction

Most people get involved in oral history because they want future generations to hear the stories they record.

But what will happen to your recordings when the interview is over? How will anyone know what those digital files contain? And how can you help others listen to them?

This is why you should start any project by finding an archive that will take care of your recordings. This way they can be kept safe and accessible long after your project and everyone connected with it are gone.

The collector of the spoken word – of oral memory and tradition – is in a privileged position. He is the creator, in some sort, of his own archives, and he ought to interpret his duties accordingly. His role, properly conceived, is that of archivist, as well as historian, retrieving and storing priceless information which would otherwise be lost...
His greatest contribution may well be in the collecting and safe preservation of his material rather than in the use he can immediately find for it...
Raphael Samuel, 1972

How to include archiving in the workflow of your oral history project

Stage 1: Planning

  • What are your aims and objectives?
  • Has anyone recorded and archived anything like this before?
  • How many interviews are you planning?
  • Can you do those in your timescale?
  • What is your budget?
  • Have you contacted an archive?
  • Have you budgeted for archive processing costs in your funding application? Check with your archive if this is needed.

  • Who do you need to interview?
  • How will you find them?
  • How will you ensure a cross-section of stories and voices?

  • Make sure you have equipment that will record archive quality. Are you planning to do video or audio-only oral history recordings? Discuss this with the archive that is going to preserve the recordings.
  • They will need some idea of the number of hours of recording you will be depositing in order to plan storage and resources. Discuss with them what you will need to transfer the recordings to the archive.

  • Finalise your question structure
  • Complete background research
  • Compile a project audit sheet
  • Decide on a file naming system
  • Prepare a system for uploading, backing up files and transferring them to the safety of an archive.
  • Prepare project forms: Project Information Sheet, Interview Participation Agreement, Interview Recording Agreement. (More detailed information about these can be found at Is your Oral History Legal and Ethical?)

You will need to have ready:

Both of these should indicate where the recordings will be preserved long term and provide contact details for the archive.

Start talking to an archive as soon as you start planning your project. 

Carry out skills assessment and training for staff and volunteers throughout this stage

Stage 2: Recording

At the end of every recording session, fill in the interview data sheet. Without this, the archive will not be able to retrieve information from your recording. 

  • Create checksums
  • Backup audio files
  • Make compressed copies of audio for listening (such as mp3 or mp4)

At the end of every recording session write up the Interview content summary and Sensitivity review form

Review interview technique and audio quality throughout this stage

Stage 3: Documenting

Both the interviewer and the interviewee should complete and sign the Interview Recording Agreement.

  • Closed sections should be approved by the Project Manager and noted in the audit sheet

  • Make a redacted version of the audio file by muting sections

  • Save the new version with a different filename.

  • Document any closures in the interview content summary and interview data sheet.
  • If required, produce a transcript for the recording and check any spelling queries.

Keep track of whether documents are complete/in progress/transferred to the archive with the project audit sheet

Stage 4: Archiving

  • Transfer the recordings and documentation to the archive which will take long term care of them.
  • The archive will then process, catalogue and provide access to the material in line with UK data protection regulations.

Well done! You have not only recorded unique stories but made sure that they are preserved and made available for future generations. 

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