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Special Collections: Oral History Resources

A guide for planning and creating oral history projects

Oral History Recording Equipment and Standards

Digital recording and related technologies are the most universal and current standard for oral history recording.  In used properly, digital recordings allows the user to duplicate, transform, and edit recordings without any quality degradation.  The process of digital recording involves a recording device, audio editing software, and possibly audio transcription software.  

Recording Equipment

Choosing digital recording equipment is often a difficult process due to the variety of recording devices and industry accepted standards which may conflict with your institution's resources or technological capabilities.  Generally speaking, we recommend a recorder that is capable of producing uncompressed audio files (AIFF, WAV, or PCM), outputting files to a computer (USB or flash memory card), and have internal or external high quality microphones.  The recorder should also be capable of producing a file that is recorded at a 16-bit, 44.1kHz sampling rate or higher.

Michigan State University's Oral History in the Digital Age web site has very a useful tool entitled Ask Doug, which allows the user to answer questions about their recording needs and then offers a relevant range of available recording equipment based on those needs.   

Audio Editing

As with digital recording equipment there is a variety of software tools that allow a user to edit and transform digital audio files.  Choosing software for audio editing is based on your institutional needs, resources, and capabilities.  We use Audacity in the Special Collections Library.  Audacity is a free, open source, cross platform audio editing software that is easy to use and offers extensive manuals and tutorials to assist the user in editing and producing audio files.  

Transcription

Transcribing audio recordings into text is a critical part of the oral history process.  A transcription provides greater accessibility to the recording as well as allowing researchers to more easily consult, reference, and browse the text rather than listening to the audio recording.  Transcription is a tedious process, but current automated transcription software may provide a faster transcript over manual human transcription.  Automated and computer generated transcription typically combines a typed transcript with the audio recording as well as provides a time-stamped document and a transcript that is easily searched and embedded into web sites.   The University Libraries uses Trint, a text-based automated transcription toolkit for transcribing, searching, editing and sharing media content online.  Trint provides us with searchable and editable transcripts within minutes of uploading files.  Transcriptions of oral histories should be governed by a standard style guide.  Baylor University has created an excellent oral history style guide which we use at Penn State.

To read more about transcription for oral histories please read Transcribing Oral History in the Digital Age and Transcribing Oral History.