Skip to Main Content

Course & Subject Guides

Oral History Toolkit: A How-To and Resource Guide

This guide serves as a toolkit for students, staff and faculty who intend to create an oral history project or are curious about how to use oral histories as primary resources.

File Formats

Archives & Special Collections has preferred file formats for digitally captured audio and video oral history interviews. Our goal is long-term preservation, storage, and access of all archival holdings in accordance with current best practices. To accomplish this, we like to work with donors and project creators when possible to ensure that the best files are created.


The archives recommends these audio file formats:

  • WAV (Waveform Audio File Format)-  Used as a master file format. It allows for the best quality audio and is considered a first generation format suited for long-term archival storage. These files tend to be large and uncompressed. 
  • BWF (Broadcast Wave Format)-  Used as a master file format. A variation of the wav file format used in the exchange of audio between broadcast environments and equipment. 
  • MP3- (MPEG-1 or MPEG-2)- Ideal for sharing, streaming, and creating use copies of an audio file. This format is compressed, often taking up to half the storage space of a wav file. In an archival setting, an mp3 is frequently the derivative of a master wav or bwf file.


The archives recommends these video file formats:

  • AVI (Audio Video Interleave)- An uncompressed  widely supported Windows video file format that contains high quality audio and video information. While a often a large robust file size requiring more storage space than MOV and MP4, it does not support subtitles. Native to Windows devices, it may require additional software to play on other platforms.
  • MOV (Quicktime)- Developed by Apple, this format contains audio and video information.  It can be played on Windows or Apple platforms. Even though this is a compressed format requiring less storage space it still manages to provide high quality files. MOV has the added benefit of being able to contain file metadata such as author, date, title, or other details.
  • MP4 (MPEG 4 Part 14)- Based off the Quicktime File Format and playable on all platforms. It's small storage requirement and high quality make MP4 ideal for access files. 


When creating any oral history project it is important to capture as much information as possible. The Metadata and Discovery Unit (MAD) in the University of Pittsburgh Library System has developed a list of required elements reflecting current best practices. All project partners with Archives & Special Collections are strongly encouraged to gather this information in consultation with MAD to make sure these requirements are met.

Required metadata elements are actually pretty basic information that a project partner, interviewer, or donor actually wants to capture and, in most cases, likely already exists, just needs to be gathered in one place.

These required elements include, but are not limited to: 

A full explanation of metadata requirements for oral history collections metadata is freely available on our GITHUB site.

Oral History Interviews Data Curation Primer

Oral histories are both primary sources and cultural objects. This primer discusses datasets involved in oral history interviews. The primer details the important metadata that needs to be included and collected for oral histories to aid in discoverability and in making them retrievable. This metadata includes, but is not limited to, technical metadata, descriptive metadata, preservation metadata, and rights metadata.  Also discussed are ethical issues surrounding oral history projects.