The Toledo Lucas County Public Library began digitizing high school yearbooks several years ago with Toledo Central High School’s Almanac (1899-1914). It is the yearbook of Toledo’s first high school, once located on the site where Main Library now stands. Our collection of Scott High School’s Scottonian was added next, an addition of 78 yearbooks covering 1914-2000 (incomplete coverage). Libbey High School’s Edelian (complete coverage) 1924-2010 was the third high school completed.
And now, Bowsher High School’s Apogee (1963-2015) is our fourth and latest complete addition. Although we had some gaps in coverage of Bowsher, a generous anonymous donor loaned us his personal yearbooks to assist filling in most of the gaps. Waite High School’s Purple and Gold is our next project, starting with its opening year in 1916. To date, we’ve completed 25 of Waite’s yearbooks, up through the year 1939.
They give our viewers a window into the culture, styles and sociological outlook of the high school students of their own times for years to come.
This project allows the Library to be an important source for genealogical and historical information now and in the future. The yearbooks will eventually deteriorate, but digitizing them saves the invaluable information they hold. They give our viewers a window into the culture, styles and sociological outlook of the high school students of their own times for years to come.
Yearbook sizes vary, but on average are about 200 images. A 200-page book takes roughly a half hour to scan, and each edit averages a minute. A conservative estimate of scanning time for our yearbook collection so far for 206 yearbooks is about 412 hours. Roughly 41,200 minutes, or 686 hours, have been spent editing the images, representing most of the time that goes into processing a book before its metadata is complete and the process of uploading to Ohio Memory, our online hosting site, is finally done.
“Digitizing all of our yearbooks is a massive undertaking that will ultimately take years, but getting all this rich historical content out there for our local historians and genealogists (and to access for free!) absolutely makes it worthwhile,” said John Dewees, digitization services supervisor
As part of the Digitization Team, I found that digitizing each yearbook is a unique project. Although both high schools and yearbooks have greatly changed over the years, many elements remain basically the same. The treatment of the classes in yearbooks is often done humorously, and since the books’ editors are usually upper-classmen, the artwork that accompanies the introduction of each class steadily decreases in sophistication with the introduction of each lower class. The following images are from the 1910 Almanac, 1928 Edelian, 1914 Almanac and the 1918 Scottonian.
This echo of this sentiment is with us still in later yearbooks. In the 1999 Apogee, published just before the turn of this century, it is apparent that freshmen are still getting (good-naturedly) harassed:
Art included in yearbooks is incredibly varied. It represents the many diverse tastes and talents of the students, reflecting their society as they saw it. Several yearbook editors, post 1950s, obtained permission through well-known artists to use their images throughout the publication. A few of these include the 1966 Libbey yearbook, which adapted Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts characters:
The 1981 Apogee staff obtained permission from Tom Batuik to use his characters from Funky Winkerbean:
Interestingly, the 1988 Apogee staff chose the Precious Memories characters originally created by the company Jonathan & David as illustrations in their yearbook:
In older editions of yearbooks, staff used only the skills and imaginations of their students to illustrate their editions, often with stunning results. The 1926 Libbey editors used a pirate theme throughout their publication. A large ship sailed on their cover, and a treasure map was included in the endpapers:
Just two years later, in 1928, Edelian staff published their yearbook with an outer space theme, surprising at such an early time period:
According to Jill Clever, Local History and Genealogy manger, “Our yearbook collection is probably in the top three of our most-requested collections. People love to see older pictures of themselves, relatives and friends (and look at those hairdos!)”
Once, a customer came in to find a photo of his mother that he had never seen, and fortunately we were able to find her senior picture for him. Another surprise came to one of our own staff members, who had seen his grandmother’s photo, but was amused to see the comment her classmates used to accompany her picture:
Since our collection is made up of donations, occasionally our yearbooks contain personal notes, signatures and autographs which make for enlightening reading as well. Such inclusions are an example of why yearbooks are such great tools for genealogists. They can provide photographs, clues about what types of organizations your ancestor may have participated in, and provide a glimpse of the cultural time period they were living in.
Please explore our growing digital collection hosted by Ohio Memory through our Library website, or come to Local History and Genealogy at Main Library and our view yearbook collection in person. If you have yearbooks you’d be interested in loaning for digitization or as a donation, please give our department a call at 419.259.5233.
Our yearbook collection is unique in that it has been obtained entirely through donations. Because of the special circumstances regarding its acquisition, there are often missing years that we haven’t been able to obtain yet for our customers. The Bowsher High School Apogees of 2002 and 2003 are not currently in our collection. If any readers are interested in donating their yearbooks to the collection or loaning them to us for inclusion online, it would be greatly appreciated!
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