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On designing an oral history search system

Iain Walker (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)
Martin Halvey (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 5 October 2017

Issue publication date: 12 October 2017




The purpose of this paper is to conduct a UK-based assessment of oral history technology and to identify the most important features that should be available in any oral history search system.


A co-design approach involving interviews and focus groups was adopted. The framework approach with elements of grounded theory was used to analyse transcripts to identify themes.


The analysis found that “ethics, consent and control”, “accessibility and engagement”, “publicity and awareness”, and “innovative technologies” were the four major themes identified. It was also established that there is limited understanding of oral history in the digital age, numerous interests, ethical concerns, lack of publicity and several key attributes that those designing an oral history search system or archive should strive for. The findings also identified that further exploration into sampling selected technologies on different user groups is required in order to develop software that would benefit the field.

Research limitations/implications

Participants were all recruited from one geographic region. The qualitative methodology utilised could be deemed to have elements of subjectivity.

Practical implications

This study has identified important features of any oral history search system and offered design recommendations for any developer of an oral history search systems.


This research has validated some previous findings for oral history search systems from more limited user studies. New issues for consideration including usability, software development and marketing have also been identified.



Walker, I. and Halvey, M. (2017), "On designing an oral history search system", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 73 No. 6, pp. 1281-1298.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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