Oral history

Kiev political debate
Political debate on the streets of Kiev. This man is brandishing a photo of himself as a young Communist supporter, evidence of a life since spent in Soviet labour camps. Autumn 1991. © Tim Smith.

One of the largest collections of oral history and life story interviews in the world

About the collection

Our oral history collections cover a wide range of subject areas relating to British life, work, culture, and experience. We collect audio and video interviews, and suitable original oral history material that provides insight into aspects of UK personal memory, identity and experience. Where the curators are unable to accept an offered collection every effort will be made to help identify an alternative archival repository to which the donor can be referred. Further information can be found in the Oral History Collection Development Policy.

We also carry our own programme of life story recordings through National Life Stories, an independent trust within the Oral History Section of the British Library. National Life Stories’ main focus and expertise has been oral history fieldwork; interviews are carried out on a project basis and all NLS collections are held in the British Library.

You can follow what's happening with our oral history collections via the Sound and vision blog and our twitter account @BL_OralHistory.

What is available online?

Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on our Sounds website. A large number of recordings are freely available for listening online, though some are restricted to users in accredited higher education establishments.

You can also use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.

This research toolkit and user journey offers practical suggestions for finding ‘difficult to find’ material in archived interview collections. Written by Paul Merchant as part of a collaboration between National Life Stories and the Understanding Unbelief programme at the University of Kent. The toolkit provides useful tips for searching the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and for working with oral history interview content summaries.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras. Sound recordings can also be accessed in Boston Spa, Yorkshire.

The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.

What is available in other organisations?

As the national centre for oral history in Britain we provide advice and training in oral history methods and maintain close contact with oral history groups in Britain and abroad. The Oral History Society will be able to provide advice for those starting oral history projects, including information on best practice, ethics and oral history, and information on how and where to apply for funding.

Oral history training courses

For information on oral history training days run jointly by National Life Stories, the British Library and the Oral History Society please visit the training page on the OHS website.

Further information

Oral History

The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Email: oralhistory@bl.uk

How to guides

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

Family history: a guide to sources

A guide to sources for family history and genealogy research, and where to find them.

Search the catalogues for oral history recordings

A guide to seaching the catalogues for oral history recordings

Search the catalogues for radio recordings

A guide to seaching the catalogues for radio recordings

How to request a copy of a sound recording

The British Library can provide copies of audio recordings held in the collections to users who are able to obtain the appropriate copyright clearance.

Listening and Viewing Service

With our Listening and Viewing Service you can access our extensive collection of recorded sound and video. The collection includes: music, wildlife, drama, literature, oral history and archived BBC Radio broadcasts.

How to request a copy of a wildlife sound recording

The Library can provide copies of wildlife and environmental recordings held in the collections, subject to some restrictions.

Access the manual of analogue audio restoration techniques

Manual of analogue audio restoration techniques

Search the India Office Records for baptisms, marriages and burials

How to search the India Office Records for baptisms, marriages and burials

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass