Advice on oral history interviewing during the Covid-19 pandemic


Recording oral history interviews in person during the COVID-19 pandemic

Version 1, 13 August 2020

Authored by Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist, National Life Stories at The British Library (camille.johnston[@], with Rob Perks, Mary Stewart, Charlie Morgan (British Library Oral History, London).

Download in-person interview guidance as a pdf.



This document raises questions and issues to consider when assessing whether to conduct oral history interviews in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not intended as a guidance document and neither the authors, the British Library or the Oral History Society can accept liability for any consequences which may result from the use of this information for any purpose. As this is a work-in-progress document which will be revised and updated the author welcomes comments and queries.

How to use this document

This document contains two sections: a list of general questions to think about before recording an interview in person, and a checklist designed to inform a risk assessment. The checklist has three sections: preparing for the interview, during the interview, and after the interview. Each section contains a list of possible precautions to consider for an in-person interview, with space for you to record the actions you will take to mitigate the risk of infection for interviewers and interviewees. The checklist is a sample form which should be tailored and adapted to suit individual projects.

Having considered the questions and checklist in this document you may decide to produce a detailed risk assessment and/or policy documenting the decisions made by your project with respect to recording in-person interviews.

Questions to consider before recording an interview in person

There have always been risks of interviewers and interviewees unwittingly passing on germs and infections during the interview encounter. Considering the severity and highly infectious nature of COVID-19, particularly as those infected can be asymptomatic, much more stringent precautions need to be considered before attempting a face-to-face interview. 

  • Does the interview need to be recorded now? Can it wait a few months/until next year?
  • Will the project be jeopardised or run out of funding if the interview can’t take place now?
  • Can the interview be recorded remotely by phone or via the internet? Or could some interview sessions be conducted in person and the rest be recorded remotely? (See guidance on remote interviewing:
  • Is the interviewer happy to proceed and have they fully considered personal health, personal risk, caring duties, and mental wellbeing?
  • Is the interviewee happy to be interviewed in their own home/garden? Are they aware of the government guidelines on social distancing and have they talked this through with their close family/friends?
  • Are there any specific reports of high infection rates in the local areas of residence of either the interviewer or interviewee which might be a cause for concern?
  • Is the interviewer able to safely travel to the interviewee’s home? And if travelling by public transport have they considered what they need to do to minimise risk?
  • Can the risk of cross-contamination be minimised by only interviewing one person in any two-week period? Can the risk be minimised by limiting the number of contacts outside the interviewer’s/interviewee’s household?
  • Will any additional people be involved in the interview scenario, such as a second interviewee or camera operator?

Checklist – Sample Form



Preparing for the Interview


During the interview



After the interview