Digitizing Local School Yearbooks

Posted on June 17, 2016

by Samantha A

My in-laws recently sold my husband’s childhood home, and during the move out process, my father-in-law made a point to save all of my husband’s high school yearbooks. However, when my father-in-law asked my husband if he wanted them, my husband hesitated a bit. Most likely, he didn’t want to transport them from California to Ohio. So, I interjected … “Why keep them? They’ll most likely be online soon, if not already.”

Many public and university libraries have digitized, or are in the process of digitizing, school yearbooks. Many of these libraries are also making them publicly available. The digitized versions allow for both increased access and better search functionality. All of these benefits make it easy to find friends and family members that went to different schools, which is especially helpful for genealogy purposes. So, if you’re looking to clear off some space on your bookshelves, donating your yearbooks to your local library may be an option.

So, what exactly is digitization? Broadly speaking, digitization includes the creation of a digital copy of a physical object, by either scanning or photographing the item. Within the library realm, digitization usually also includes editing the photos or scans, metadata creation, and making digitized materials publicly accessible. Digital preservation is also a piece of the puzzle – more on that in an upcoming blog post.

Here at TLCPL (Toledo Lucas County Public Library), we scan our yearbooks using a Kabis 3 Book Scanner (pictured above), we edit the images using LIMB software, and we put materials online via our Ohio Memory website: The Digital Heritage of Northwest Ohio. We create high resolution TIFF, JPEG, and PDF files, and we put the JPEG files online. We also create robust metadata, so the materials are easily discoverable. Our metadata includes information such as title, creator, description, subjects, extent, etc.

Recently, we decided to start digitizing high school yearbooks, as they are some of our most requested items. This may be in part due to their usefulness in starting genealogy research. In fact, we usually have at least one customer a day ask for a high school yearbook. We started with the Scottonian and will be digitizing Libbey High School yearbooks next. Check out the yearbooks we’ve digitized so far on the Ohio Memory website under collection title/schools.

In addition to libraries, for-profit companies have digitized a lot of yearbooks as well. Those can be found on websites such as classmates.com and e-yearbook.com, but usually those collections are not complete and/or charge a small fee. Other places to look for online yearbooks include ancestry.com or familysearch.org. In fact, Ancestry has an entire yearbook collection. We offer all of our customers free access to ancestry.com from any on-site library computer with internet access. FamilySearch.org is completely free, you just need to sign-up for an account.

In addition to improved search capabilities, an upside to digitized yearbooks is that it allows you to donate and/or recycle your yearbooks and free up storage space. In her very popular book, titled The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, author Marie Kondo talks about how photographs and school related items can be some of the hardest to part with, but if your school yearbooks are available online, and are being preserved by a library or archive, that should make it a lot easier to discard them. You may be thinking to yourself, what about the autographs and notes from my classmates? If your yearbooks are already online, you could cut out the autograph pages and recycle the rest. Before doing this, I would recommend contacting your local library to verify whether or not a copy is available for public use (digital or hard copy). Before recycling, it’s also a good idea to contact your local library to ask if they could use them to complete their collection. So, if you thought you could escape those bad high school yearbook photos (and believe me, I was definitely hoping I could), those days are over. The upside – improved access, access to schools you did not go to, and quick and easy searching.

If you have any Toledo or Lucas County school yearbooks and would like to donate them, please contact us at digitization@toledolibrary.org.

At the moment, we are particularly in need of the following Scottonian yearbooks: 1954, 1956, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1998.

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