After the interview

After the interview is finished don’t rush away. Take time to thank the interviewee and talk about yourself. This is also the time to discuss the Interview Recording Agreement, sometimes called a copyright and clearance form (see Being Legal and Ethical), which needs to be signed by each interviewee so that the rights and access conditions for the interview are clearly agreed. 

You will often be shown some interesting old photographs or documents. Before you leave provide an address or phone number where you can be contacted and make clear whether you will be returning for a follow up interview or not. This can avert any unnecessary worry. 

Remember that your visit will often have a major impact on someone who has perhaps never told anyone their memories before.

Back at base

there are things you need to do

Back at base it is vital to transfer the digital files you have recorded to computer and make back-up safety copies for permanent preservation.

Digital files can be uploaded to computer via the USB port in the recorder or (better) via a card reader plugged into USB2 port on the PC.

A good routine is to upload, rename, and back up to external computer hard-drive, then make an additional copy as an MP3 for playback, transcription and security purposes. It’s also possible at this stage to make a further copy (say for an interviewee or transcriber) onto a DVD or CDR or memory stick, though none should be regarded as an archival version. Then (and only then) it’s possible to ‘reformat’ (i.e. wipe) the memory card ready for the next recording.


Some tips on hard disc drives

for long-term preservation

Here are some pointers on hard disc drives, now favoured for long-term preservation:

  • Hard disc drives are manufactured to last only a few years. In practice, they might last longer, but the notion of a single individual drive as a reliable long-term store is a non-starter.
  • However, drives can successfully be used for long-term storage by replicating data across more than one drive.
  • The particular drive model is less important than the strategy of using different brands of drive in order to diminish the risk of simultaneous drive failures.
  • The simplest system is to manually mirror (replicate) data across at least one other drive, and store the replica(s) in different locations.
  • As well as establishing a regular (daily) back-up routine it is worth using a system that regularly checks each disc for integrity, sector errors etc, as well as verifying that data copying is accurate. RAID systems are becoming cheaper and can be used to replicate and check data across several disc drives, and automate the process of restoring data automatically when a particular drive fails (
  • Some systems use RAIDs coupled with off-line backup on optical disc or on tape drives (LTO etc) as extra security. The BL uses this kind of mass storage system (known in the BL as the ‘Digital Library System’) but multiple external hard-drives are likely to be a more viable and affordable option for most projects.


Don't forget the paperwork

documenting is key to finding

Each new interviewee should have their own personal file containing details of his or her full name and date of birth, the place and date of the interview, your own name, the type of equipment you used etc., together with the pre-interview participation agreement and the post-interview recording agreement (copyright form) and copies of any letters. 

Full verbatim transcription of recordings is hugely time-consuming and expensive, but transcripts do provide an excellent guide to your recordings. There are now several computer software packages that make transcription easier: Express Scribe Transcription Playback software is a free download. This is controllable via ‘hot keys’ on the keyboard and/or via a remote foot pedal. Alternative software includes Start Stop. 

As a minimum it is essential to write a synopsis or content summary of the interview which briefly lists in order all the main themes, topics and stories discussed. This will come in useful if you want to use the interview in an exhibition, or book, or radio programme. You can find some guidance for writing content summaries here.

Editing and archiving

providing access to your recordings

For editing there are a large number of software packages suitable for editing digital audio on PCs (and macs). For basic speech editing Audacity, a free piece of open-source software, is adequate but Wavelab Elements or Sound Forge Audio Studio 12 are better as low-cost and highly-recommended alternatives.

As well as establishing a good routine for downloading and backing-up digital files it is also important to think about archiving copies of your recordings with your local library or archive. Many project funders (such as Heritage Lottery Fund) will expect you to have identified a permanent place of deposit for your recordings before the project starts.

A screengrab of sound editing software
British Library Sound Archive
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