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Oral history: museums, libraries and heritage organisations

These oral history collection give an insight into the working life of archivists, librarians, museum curators and information professionals. We also have a number of collections focusing on British heritage organisations and institutions.

Museums, libraries and archives

  • Interviews with librarians (catalogue no: C698) comprises of interviews made in 1974-76 and also featured as part of Drake Educational publication 'Librarians Speaking'.
  • Museums Oral History interviews (catalogue no: C1059) is a series of interviews with museum professionals begun in 2002.
  • The Public Record Office Oral History Project (catalogue no: C822) is a small oral history project with current and former staff at all levels, recording memories of what it was like to work there over the past century. Interviewees include Jack Cantwell, Private Secretary to the Deputy Keeper and official historian of the PRO; David Lea, Paperkeeper, 1954-1992; Sylvia Collings, PRO telephonist 1979-1987.
  • The Society of Archivists oral history project (catalogue no: C1181) comprises 72 interviews with archivists and conservators to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Society of Archivists.
  • The Health Libraries Group Oral History Project (catalogue no: C1108) is a collection of interviews with members of the Health Libraries Group, a forum for all members of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) including librarians and information workers in the NHS, voluntary organisations, public libraries, universities, colleges and industry.
  • The British Library Slavonic and East European Oral History Interviews (catalogue no. C1480) is a collection of interviews which capture the experiences and memories of former members of the British Library Slavonic and East European department staff. The recordings covers a period of fifty years from 1955 to 2004, when the interviewees worked at various times first in the Department of Printed Books of the British Museum (until 1973 when the British Library was established) and then in the British Library.

  • An interview with Librarian Gwyneth Gosling is included in the National Life Stories collection NLSC: General Interviews (catalogue no: C464).

Heritage organisations

  • The National Trust Sound Archive (catalogue no: C1168) is an ongoing collection of recordings made by the National Trust. The interviews record the experiences of those that worked in properties now owned by the National Trust between the 1920s and 1950s, recalling daily life, the families that lived in the properties, and descriptions of the houses and gardens. The collection also includes many recordings about the period after properties had been acquired by the National Trust, including interviews with staff, archaeologists, architects and landscape gardeners.
  • The British Council Oral History collection (catalogue no: C1083) is a collection funded by the British Council and co-ordinated by the British Council Association Oral History Project, covers the careers of prominent employees of the British Council.
  • Oral History of oral history in the UK (catalogue no: C1149) is a growing series of interviews with oral historians and others involved in the production and preservation of oral histories.
  • The Society of Antiquaries (catalogue no: C1198) collection are recordings, deposited by Society of Antiquaries, of Sir Mortimer Wheeler addressing the first South Asian Archaeology Conference in 1971, and Dame Joan Evans, interviewed by Professor Norman Hammond in 1975.
  • The Charleston Trust (catalogue no: C1180) collection comprises recordings of Duncan Grant in conversation with Quentin Bell about his connection with Charleston, made while filming 'Duncan Grant at Charleston', directed by Iain Bruce, circa 1969. Angelica Garnett (née Bell) and Grace Higgens, former housekeeper at Charleston, also speak on three of the recordings.
  • An Oral History of the Courtaulds at Eltham Palace (catalogue no: C1056), a National Life Stories project funded by English Heritage, is a series of interviews with people who had contact with Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, mainly during the period of the Courtaulds’ residence at Eltham Palace 1936-1940s, with a few after that date.

Related recordings

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

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

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk