Freelance oral history work

Heather Cole Discussion

I am doing my first paid freelance oral history project (as opposed to as an employee or as a sucker who did it for free) and need a bit of a reality check on what my contract/scope of work should look like. 

And THANK YOU to the folks who wrote the Independent Practitioners Toolkit -- it was super helpful in thinking this through.

This project is for a nonprofit (not a library, museum or archive) that is commemorating an anniversary. There will be 5-8 interviews. My contract/scope of work is really just a one-page document that says I will interview these people and deliver digital files and transcripts by a particular date. I then have a timeline that chunks the various tasks out by who is going to do them and due dates (setting up interviews, pre-interviews, transcription, audit-editing, etc. etc.). And then what my fee is, plus mileage, and when payment is due.

I know that in theory I should also have something about usage and ownership/crediting, but this particular project is really going to just be for their internal use -- and is going to use their own legal forms -- so I don't know what I would say. 

Does this sound reasonable?

Thanks in advance!!

3 Replies

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Hi Heather,

I have not been active on this forum as am trying to complete the final chapter of my doctoral thesis ( trying to sound grown up) and I missed out on your former posts.

Quick answer: If you are commissioned to conduct the oral history interviews and transcribe, etc but not to actually interpret them and present writings which draw on them, then ownership/credit issue does not arise in my opinion. If you were to write research, narratives which stand on their own, chapters or articles 'based' on the interviews then you would need to be credited for that final product. It is unlikely that the data you provide requires 'credits'. However, you may ask them to credit you in the non-profit world, publication or thank you for your oral historian skills in interviewing in some other way online or give you a testimonial : 'Heather as an oral historian, handled the issues sensitively and drew out layered, textured data and nuances that were invaluable. A lot depends on the interviewer in these instances and we highly recommend Heather for any such project you may have' . Hope that helped!
Bon chance!

Hi Heather,

Co-author of the Independent Practitioner Toolkit here! Glad it was helpful to you.

For institutional history projects, I've found that there's often a late-breaking suggestion at the end of a project that you provide a presentation to the staff or board of the organization on the project content. It could be useful to float that idea in the beginning and allocate a fee for the labor and time it will take you to prepare and attend.

The other thing I'd suggest is that if you're scheduling all the interviews, and especially if you're coordinating the labor of other contractors and staff, you include a fee for project management. Even with small projects!

Sometimes I also include "workflow requests" in a proposal to spell out that I will need contact information, a meeting with IT, access to their archives on Tuesdays, whatever it may be that requires time and effort of staff.

Best wishes,

Hey Heather!

As someone also involved in creating the Independent Practitioner Toolkit, I'm happy to read it was useful! I think your proposed scope of work covers lots of good stuff. Sarah's suggestions are, as usual, fantastic. You might include an acknowledgement that you'll include this work on your portfolio/CV and may present on it at professional conferences (and if an org prefers you not to do so, this would prompt that conversation if it hasn't already happened). And even if the interviews will be used internally, I do think there is some utility to asking the org to acknowledge you as the interviewer whenever possible. If nothing else this helps folks understand that oral histories don't just happen. There is a real live person conducting the interview and who played a role in its creation. To Gaya's point, this isn't something official like an ownership/copyright credit, but more a good faith acknowledgement.

Good luck!
Allison Tracy-Taylor