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