Oral history

Oral history is an effective way to document the experiences of NSW public libraries during the time of Covid19. Please find suggested guidelines below.

COVID-19 oral history project


Oral history recordings of NSW public library staff sharing their experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Focus should be on changes to library services and community needs during Covid-19. Recordings will be added to your own public library collection.

The London Transport Museum has produced Contemporary collecting: an ethical guide for museum practitioners and it will provide some background for participants.


Public library staff in a range of roles could be interviewed by their colleagues by phone or computer to provide different viewpoints about how public library services have been changing during the pandemic.

Many NSW public library staff have received oral history training in the last five years as part of state-wide projects. Some libraries have organised their own training. This is a significant number of public library staff who have been trained in oral history (over eighty people). Some libraries have recording devices, others have phones and computers which can be used to record.

Who does the interviewing?

Public library staff who have received oral history training.

Who is interviewed?

Library staff in a range of roles should be interviewed for this project.

Email discussions around dealing with library services, including home library and children’s services, during the pandemic began in February and it would be useful to have some of these stories recorded. Library managers and senior staff also have relevant stories to record about the decisions they made for their library services. This pandemic has had an impact on every library job. Changes are likely to be ongoing.

Recordings that capture these types of stories are of interest. Ideally recordings would start while libraries are closed, using the question prompts (below). A second round of interviews, with the same staff is recommended n the first four to six weeks after libraries re-open. This way service changes can be recorded while still fresh. As with any oral history photographs of the people being interviewed should be included. These may need to be selfies as people will be in different locations.


The library staff being recorded will need to give written permission this can be via email. The form created by Ausgoal2 can be used, or use your own library oral history form.

The State Library of NSW obtained legal advice from AUSgoal for a template oral history consent form, this File Oral history consent form was prepared by AUSgoal, is openly licensed and is available by CC-BY 4.0 Licence. It can be used freely with attribution to AusGOAL.


Recordings should be made available quickly online using a Creative Commons license so that it is possible for researchers to easily access and use these recordings in NSW public libraries. These recordings will be a key local corporate record of this time.

So these recordings can be easily discovered and connected, the following statement should be part of each catalogue and other related online records.

This recording was created as part of the NSW Public Library 2020 COVID-19 oral history collecting project to record the experiences of NSW public libraries during this time.

Records should be added to Trove Australia to increase access.


Each library should choose how this project may fit in their library work-loads and plans.


Technology to be used will depend on local availability.

Options include:

  • Oral history recorder
    • placed next to a mobile phone(with speaker phone selected)
    • attached to a computer
  • Tablet with recording app, placed next to mobile phone (with speaker phone selected)
  • PC or laptop placed next to the mobile phone (with speaker phone selected)
  • Use appropriate software as available
  • Other recording options may be suitable

Recordings need to be of good quality (with minimal background noise). Where possible and for future preservation, recordings should be created in line with current sound archival practice. The preferred archival format for sound is: WAV file, recorded at 24 bit 48kHz in uncompressed stereo.

How to do an oral history recording at a distance

Recording an oral history at a distance has similar requirements to a face-to-face recording. Make sure you pause to allow the person interviewed plenty of time to think about the question and answer, and give them time to speak.

Suggested opening statement for oral history interview

This is (NAME) interviewing (NAME) on x of MONTH, YEAR.
This recording is taking place remotely at …. (eg. remotely via telephone at our homes in Bathurst, NSW). The interview is being recorded for the (Library Name) oral history collection looking at the effects of COVID-19 on Public Libraries services and library staff in NSW.
If the interview is paused or stopped, give a brief reintroduction when recording resumes.
This is NAME continuing the interview with NAME after a quick break.


The suggested questions are a starting point for you oral history interview. You can add or modify as suitable.

File COVID-19 oral history project - suggested questions

Support from State Library of NSW staff

Email Ellen or Michael with questions at any time. Talking with us is the best way to discuss specific topic or recording concerns.

Further reading