Search the catalogues for oral history recordings

How to search the British Library's catalogues for oral history recordings

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The British Library provides access to oral history recordings covering a wide range of subject areas relating to British life, work, culture and experience. The Sound and Moving Image online catalogue describes all of the Library's oral history holdings and you should start your search there.

Simple search

  • Start in 'Simple search' and 'Search everything'. This will search the entire catalogue for the words(s) you have entered.
  • Entering a specific catalogue number, e.g. C466/323, should give you the information you need.

Advanced search

  • 'Advanced search' gives you a number of additional search options. Select ‘Oral history’ from the ‘Collection’ drop-down menu. This will search for your word(s) in the oral history collections only. Use the wildcard characters $ or ? to return any character.
  • You can combine or restrict different types of searches by clicking on the 'AND' drop-down box and choosing the AND, OR or NOT.
  • The 'name' field is useful for searching for information about interviewees and interviewers, in addition to their names. For example to see the five female interviewees in the Artists' Lives project born in the 1910s, enter '190? female' in the 'name' field and C466 in the 'any words or numbers' field.
  • In the 'year' field, you can use the ‘<’ and ‘>’ symbols to search for recordings made during certain date ranges.  For example entering ‘<1925’ with a search for ‘Winston Churchill’ only in the oral history collections would find only recordings mentioning Churchill made before 1925.

To search a particular collection, enter the catalogue reference ‘C’ number in one ‘any words or numbers’ search box; and the word or phrase that you are searching for in another ‘any words or numbers’ search box. You can find C numbers for collections in the Oral History Collections Guides.

Narrowing your search

If your search is resulting in too many records after trying an advanced search, for example for 'London', you should review your search terms.

  • Could you add a search term, for example ‘London and blitz’ or exclude a term, for example ‘London not blitz’?
  • The $ symbol spreads your search, for example ‘nurs$’ will search (all at the same time) for nurse, nurses, nursed, nursing, nursery and nurseryman.
  • Minimise the number of hits by selecting ‘Recording’ on the ‘format’ drop-down menu; this will give you only recording (content) entries for an interview.

Finding keywords in a content summary

Searches only give you whole records (some of which contain very long and detailed interview summaries) and do not highlight the precise word you have looked for. To find a single word in a particular record go to 'Edit' on the toolbar at the top of the window, select 'Find (on this Page)' and type in a key word. Pressing ‘Control-F’ does the same thing.

‘Product’ and ‘recording’ entries

A catalogue search for oral history recordings is likely to bring up two types of catalogue record: a product and a recording:

  • a product entry records information about the format on which the recording was made and the physical carrier which holds the sound (e.g open reel, cassette tape, Mini Disc).
  • a recording entry records the details of the content of the interview – such as the names of the participants, details about access and copyright, an interview content summary, and the reference number you need to order the item from the Listening Service.

For analogue recordings each interview will have both a product entry (details on format and physical carrier) and a recording entry (which gives content details), for example C410/110. For recordings which were recorded digitally (including most fieldwork recordings made after 2004, for example C821/198) there will be only a recording entry because the audio is stored as a digital file rather than on a physical sound carrier.

Search tips for British Library Sounds

Over 2,000 oral history interviews have been digitised and are available for listening online via British Library Sounds, though some recordings are restricted to users in accredited higher education establishments. If a recording is available on British Library Sounds, you will see a ‘Listen at British Library Sounds’ link at the top of the catalogue record on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

  • Go to British Library Sounds and select ‘Oral history’ from the drop-down category menu at the top-right of the page.
  • Enter one or more search terms in the text box, for example ‘Holocaust Kindertransport’ and click ‘Search’.  Searches will find records containing all of your search terms (it will not find records containing only some of your search terms).
  • Searches only give you parts of whole records and do not highlight the precise word you have looked for. To find a single word in a particular summary part go to 'Edit' on the toolbar at the top of the window, select 'Find (on this Page)' and type in a key word.
  • British Library Sounds does not support Boolean searching (AND, OR, NOT operators), phrase searches, truncation or variant spellings.  Use the Sound and Moving Image catalogue for more detailed searches.

Further information

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7404
Email: oralhistory@bl.uk

Collection guides

Oral histories of museum and library professionals

Archivists, librarians and curators describe their working lives

Oral histories of food production and consumption

Interviews with cooks, restaurateurs, retailers, winemakers and consumers

Oral histories of disability and personal and mental health

Collections which chart the experiences of those with disabilities and ill-health

Oral histories of religion and belief

Many of our life story interviews explore religious belief

Oral histories of the history of women

Collections relating to women’s lives including home and working life, political activism and protest, feminism and gender.

Oral histories of sexuality, reproductive health and prostitution

Oral histories that explore changing attitudes to sex, and sexual and reproductive health.

Oral histories of war and conflict

Collections that relate to war and the traumatic experiences associated with conflict

Oral histories of visual arts and crafts

Oral history collections covering a cross-section of those involved in visual arts.

Oral histories of medicine and health professionals

Interviews with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and physiotherapists

Oral histories of science and technology

Oral history collections concentrating on medicine, science and technology.

Major national oral history projects and surveys

Includes pioneering oral history material

Oral histories of business and finance

Testimonies from those involved in the City and many industries and companies

Oral histories of sport

Interviews with tennis players, swimmers, and track, field and road athletes

Oral histories of education

Recorded experiences of students, trainees and teachers

Oral histories of Jewish experience and Holocaust testimonies

Includes recordings of Londoners, women, refugees and survivors