General FAQs

Where is the Williams Center located? When are you open?

The Williams Center for Oral History offices are currently closed to the public until further notice. Collections are still accessible through LSU Library Special Collections. For more information on our collections, see "Searching and Accessing Existing Collections" below. When we re-open to the public, we will be in the LSU Library on LSU's main campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Operating hours are Monday-Friday, 8-4:30 pm. For more information about holidays observed by LSU, visit here.

If you are planning to visit the Center, appointments are highly encouraged. Please contact the Center's director to schedule an appointment.

Where are the interviews housed?

Because oral histories are unique primary resources, all interviews, transcriptions, and corresponding finding aids are housed in LSU Libraries Special Collections. All digital media files are stored on LSU Libraries servers.

Do you have any current gallery or online exhibitions?

Often, oral history collections are showcased in exhibitions at Hill Memorial Library and sometimes in other galleries around Louisiana. To find out if a current exhibit includes Williams Center materials, please visit the LSU Libraries Exhibitions page and/or the Center's blog and Facebook page.

Online exhibitions and presentations can be found here.

What are some of the projects that the Center works on currently?

To find out, please visit "Current Research" and follow along on the Center's blog and Facebook page.

To find out more from the Center's staff, you are more than welcome to contact the Center's director.

How does the Center decide whom to interview?

The Williams Center chooses interviewees whose recollections best fit within one of our projects. If you know someone whose life experience fits within a project you may let us know about that person and why you think their stories would contribute to our oral history collection. To nominate someone for an interview, complete and return our Interviewee Candidate Form. Due to limitations of resources, an even better alternative is for you to prepare to interview the person yourself. We can provide guidance and training in oral history techniques so that you can interview people whose stories and memories deserve preserving. Begin your training here.

I have conducted my own interviews for another project. Can I donate my recordings to your collection?

What does the Williams Center do for students?

Any LSU student may work with Center staff in partnership on an oral history project, seek training in oral history research methods, or request guidance in using the Center's existing collections. Please contact the director for more information.

LSU undergraduate students are welcome to apply for positions as student assistants at the Center. Assistants index and summarize oral history interview recordings and assist with other clerical needs in the Center. To apply, complete the Employment page and complete the Student Worker Application Form.

LSU undergraduates who qualify to take certain graduate courses may join LSU graduate students in taking Anthropology 4909, Seminar in Oral History.

LSU graduate students may also serve assistantships with the Center, when funding is available.

What does it mean to partner with the Center?

Who is T. Harry Williams? Can I access his papers through the Williams Center?

Find out about the renowned scholar and legendary professor here and listen to the Center's first podcast episode.

The T. Harry Williams Papers are NOT housed with the Williams Center, but rather are archived as a separate manuscript collection with LSU Libraries Special Collections as part of the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections (LLMVC). For more information, see the Williams Papers finding aid.

Why is the Center part of LSU Libraries?

Many oral history centers, programs, and institutes found throughout the world are stand-alone programs, or are incorporated within a museum or historical society. Other oral history programs are affiliated with universities are often situated within an academic college or department such as academic affairs, history, sociology, public history, anthropology, folklore, documentary studies, or university libraries. Many of the interviews end up housed in the repository provided by the university library system.

The Williams Center for Oral History fits well under the Louisiana State University Libraries whose core mission includes creating new knowledge, teaching research skills, and preserving Louisiana's diverse culture. As a part of LSU Libraries, the Center is in a prime position to offer university and community outreach services to department administrators, academic and independent scholars, professors and teachers, students, cultural groups, historical societies, and like-minded organizations.

Once an oral history interview is conducted and processed, this unique primary resource is preserved in perpetuity and available to researchers as part of LSU Libraries Special Collections. Eventually, all available oral history collections will be available online through LSU Libraries' collection on the LOUISiana Digital Library.

Doing Oral History

How long does an oral history project take and how much does it cost?

Oral history projects take time. And cost money. For every hour of interview conducted in the field, it takes at least 10 hours to prepare for that interview and anywhere from 35-50 hours for an archive to process it. Visit "Oral History Project Budget" for a full breakdown of the time and costs associated with oral history projects.

What is the definition of oral history?

All oral histories are interviews, but not all interviews are oral histories.

First and foremost, an oral history is a primary resource. An audio or video product is created and is preserved as an original historical document in a repository so that it can be used for further research.

Oral history methodology is qualitative research process based on personal interviewing, suited to understanding meanings, interpretations, relationships, and subjective experiences. There are two basic types of interviews and projects: life narrative/biographical or project-oriented/topical.

Donald Ritchie, Historian for the U.S. Senate, offers one of the best definitions in his book, Doing Oral History: "Oral History collects memories and personal commentaries of historical significance through recorded interviews. An oral history interview generally consists of a well-prepared interviewer questioning an interviewee and recording their exchange in audio or video format. Recordings of the interview are transcribed, summarized, or indexed and then placed in a library or archives. These interviews may be used for research or excerpted in a publication, radio or video documentary, museum exhibition, dramatization or other form of public presentation. Recordings, transcripts, catalogs, photographs and related documentary materials can also be posted on the Internet. Oral history does not include random taping, such as President Richard Nixon's surreptitious recording of his White House conversations, nor does it refer to recorded speeches, wiretapping, personal diaries on tape, or other sound recordings that lack the dialogue between interviewer and interviewee."

What are the main components of a legitimate oral history interview?

Paperwork stipulating who owns copyright of the work (see below). This requires agreement from the interviewee, who is, according to copyright law, a joint author of the work. Informed consent may also be necessary depending upon regulations of varying institutions. For more information about Institutional Review Boards (IRB), click here.

A well-prepared, trained interviewer recording the questioning of an interviewee to shed light on an historical or cultural phenomena, heretofore under-documented or under-represented.

The recording is audible and preserved in good condition in a repository and available for researchers.

Why are Oral History interview sessions closed to observers during the recording process?

An important criteria for oral history interviews lies in the setting: Oral histories are best recorded between 1 interviewer and 1 interviewee. The exception being if the interviewer has an audio engineer or if the interviewee requires a family member to assist with recall. Oral histories recorded with multiple interviewers or observers other than family may not be accepted into the Center’s collection.

Because the interview is a primary source created as a shared authority between the trained interviewer and the narrator, the interviewee is given a chance to review the audio and transcription before the interview and/or transcription is made public. So having observers present during the recording process violates the ethical research partnership agreement between the interviewer and the interviewee as it exposes them to the “public” without giving the interviewee an opportunity to review the content of the recording. Additional persons present (observers, writers, journalists, documentarians, artists, etc.) expose the interviewee to additional vulnerabilities, and affects the nature of the intimate setting. That attendee or additional interviewer has their own distinct purpose for attending, separate from the interviewer, and this is problematic on many levels, one being that the interviewee may feel uncomfortable, even if that discomfort is not expressed. The additional presence of people other than the interviewer’s tech support and the person being interviewed also affects the interviewer’s focus and flow, and ultimately the form and content of the interview. Therefore, all interview sessions are closed, with the exception of “oral history day” type of interviews, which are typically public event pre-interviews, held for the purpose of identifying potential new candidates.

Where do I go if I want to learn more about doing oral history? Whom might I contact?

To get started, see the Center's links and online resources. For an in-person consultation or workshop, please contact the Center's director, Jennifer A. Cramer at jabrah2@lsu.edu or 225-578-7439.

Where can I learn more about oral history and copyright and other legal challenges?

Read this publication and/or check out the field's leading expert's latest publication on the subject.
See the Center's sample copyright release forms.

Searching and Accessing Existing Collections

How can I search your existing collections?

You can search the catalog record for all collections that have been fully processed. Additionally, selected items from the collections are available online in the LOUISiana Digital Library.

You can also search the series finding aids (also called abstracts), which are detailed descriptions of interviews at both the item level (interview) and the collection level (project or series).

For unprocessed collections, you may search the collection level descriptions that sometimes include interviewee names. Or you might do a general search of the Center's Blog and FB page. See below for availability of unprocessed collections.

What is a "collection"?

A collection is an interview, and as such, it is assigned a specific collection number, such as 4700.1234. There can be several recordings (indicated by Tape #) within one collection if the person was interviewed on more than one occasion by the same interviewer.

What is the difference between a "processed collection" and an "unprocessed collection"?

A processed collection has gone through several steps to become a cataloged record, and thus available to the researching public. Those steps include a thorough vetting of copyright and restrictions, a verbatim transcription or thorough indexing of the interview including time-stamped calibration, the creation of a finding aid that includes important metadata about the collection, the preservation and optimization of audio files, the creation of user-copies, and cataloging. This process requires the efforts of several LSU Libraries staff members and it has been calculated that for every hour of recording, it takes 35-50 hours to fully process. For a detailed breakdown of the stages and fees associated with archiving oral histories, please see The Oral History Budget.

An unprocessed collection is one that has not reached the final stage of completion and is not yet ready to be cataloged. Depending on the stage of processing that the interview has reached, more or less of the interview and its contents will be available to patrons. See below for availability of unprocessed collections.

Which interviews are available to patrons? What if an interview isn't fully processed yet? Can I still access it?

All unrestricted cataloged collections are available to patrons. Audio and/or transcriptions and indexes can also be duplicated, while restricted collections are only available on-site in the Reading Room and duplication may be limited to "Fair Use," or may not be an available option.

All requests for access to unprocessed collections require the Director's authorization. Any duplications of unprocessed interviews are not allowed beyond "Fair Use" unless this restriction is cleared by the Director upon staff review of the item. Please note that the review process may take at least one business day, depending on the size of the collection.

What if the interview has restrictions?

There are various types of restrictions to collections that will be listed in the catalog record. The most common restriction is the one triggered by incomplete paperwork and this restriction often limits the interview to on-site access-only and limited duplication.

Other restrictions are set forth by the interviewer or the interviewee, and are handled on a case-by-case basis.

How can I order a copy of an interview?

Follow the procedures outlined via LSU Libraries Public Services. Be sure to have the collection number, tape number, and the name of the interviewee handy to fill out the form. Please note-these copy requests are not processed by Center personnel, but rather though Public Services, as indicated in the above procedures.

The interview will be sent to you as PDF or a MP3, delivered through a temporary file-sharing system.

How should I cite the interviews in publications or presentations?

There are several options and will be determined by varying style guides.

[Last Name, First Name], interview by [interviewer first name and last name], audio recording, [date], [4700.####]. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

[First name last name] Oral History Interview, MSS 4700.####, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

For assistance, please refer to Special Collections' guidelines on duplicating, citing, and publishing.

If I have ordered a copy of the audio and/or transcription, do I need to fill out a "Permission to Publish" Form?

Quite possibly, you will. Please see Special Collections' guidelines on duplicating, citing, and publishing. Permission to duplicate a collection does not necessarily translate to permission to publish.

Where do I go to access the collections in your archive?

There are several ways to access oral histories:

1) You can visit LSU Libraries: Since all cataloged interviews are housed in Special Collections at Hill Memorial Library, you may visit the Reading Room where staff will assist you by pulling transcriptions from the stacks, or by providing you access to digital audio files via the stand-alone computer, which is outfitted with headphones.

2) You can visit the Center's collections online for select interviews.

3) You may request a duplication of the interview.

4) A copy of the interview may be housed in another location, so be sure to double check that information in the catalog record.

Is the interview available for Interlibrary Loan?