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Searching the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue for oral history

The Sound and Moving Image Catalogue provides access to details of more than 20,000 oral history interviews.

Getting started: simple search

  • Start in 'SIMPLE SEARCH' and 'Search Everything'. This will search the entire catalogue for the word(s) you have entered. 
  • If you have entered a catalogue number the SIMPLE SEARCH might give you what you're looking for immediately.
  • However, if you have searched using a word search some of the results may be music or wildlife recordings, or there may be too many records to browse easily, in which case try an 'ADVANCED SEARCH'.

Advanced search

  • For more focused searches you can go to ADVANCED SEARCH which gives you a number of additional search options. The most useful is to select 'Oral History' from the 'Collection' drop-down menu. This will then search for your word(s) in only the oral history collections.
  • ADVANCED SEARCH also allows you to set other search options such as year of recording. This is useful if you are looking for older recordings before a certain year using the '<' symbol; or after a certain date using the '>' symbol. For example entering '<1925' with a search for 'Winston Churchill' only in the Oral History collections would find only recordings mentioning Churchill made before 1925.

If you want to search a particular collection, enter the ‘C’ number in one ‘any words of number’ search box and the word or phrase that you are searching for in another ‘any words or numbers’ search box. 

'Product' and 'recording' entries

Any catalogue search for oral history recordings is likely to bring up two types of catalogue record: a product and a recording:

  • a product entry records information about the format on which the recording was made and the physical carrier which holds the sound (open reel, cassette tape, mini disc)
  • a recording entry records the details of the content of the interview - such as the names of the participants, details about access and copyright, an interview summary, and the reference number you need to order the item. 

Therefore for analogue recordings each interview will have BOTH a product entry (details on format and physical carrier) AND a recording entry (which gives content details). 

However, for recordings which were recorded digitally (many fieldwork recordings made after 2004) there will be only a recording entry because the audio is stored as a computer file rather than on a physical sound carrier (such as a cassette). 

If you want to see an example for an analogue recording undertake a SIMPLE SEARCH in cadensa and type in C410/110; for an example of a born-digital recording type in C821/198.

Narrowing your search

If you are still getting too many records after trying an advanced search then you should review your search word(s).

  • Have you entered a word that is too general e.g. 'London'?
  • Could you add a search term e.g. 'London and blitz'?
  • Could you exclude a search term e.g. 'London not blitz'?
  • And remember that you can use the '$' sign to spread your search e.g. 'nurs$' will search (all at the same time) for nurse, nurses, nursed, nursing, nursery, and nurseryman.

Additionally, you could minimise the number of hits by selecting ‘Recording’ on the ‘format’ drop-down menu; this will give you only recording entries for an interview.

Finding keywords in a content summary

Searches only give you whole records (some of which contain very long and detailed interview summaries) and do not highlight the precise word you have looked for. To find a single word in a particular record go to 'Edit' on the toolbar at the top of the window, select 'Find (on this Page)' and type in a key word.

Not enough detail

Some oral history collections are only described as whole collections rather than as individual interviews or recordings. In these cases further information may be available from the Oral History Curator by quoting the collection 'C' reference number.

Not every scrap of data is perfectly typed or spelled - we therefore put a high priority on our ongoing data cleansing operations. It is hoped that the value of access to this unique resource outweighs any rough edges in presentation. Should you notice any serious errors please let us know and we will rectify them.

Further information

Sound & Vision Reference Service
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7831
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7691

E-mail: Ask the Sound & Vision Reference Team