Crinkled pages filled with dust and slightly yellowed photographs fill the frayed bindings of the stacks of annuals in my parents’ study. When I was eight, I used to study the photographs, searching for a glimpse of my mom or dad in group shots from their high school and college days.
My Dad and I spent many an hour over our alma mater’s yearbooks. We both went to Hendrix, and as his old photos show, long hair was the style back in the seventies.
At Hendrix I decided to join the yearbook staff. The year I joined, a very serious discussion was taking over the cafeteria tables and common areas, as well as the student senate.
I was a member of the student government and I remember the Media Chair opening the floor for discussion on whether to digitize the school’s yearbook known as the Troubadour. The publication cost was the main issue at hand. The other problem was the frustration that ensued when the yearbook was finally handed out: people love to highlight the mistakes over the triumphs.
The discussion took over the campus for a couple of days. Everyone who I talked to seemed to be mostly against the idea of turning the annual into a digital medium. Personally, I agreed, and I was happy when Hendrix decided that instead of turning the book to a more modern format, the guidelines for the editor would be more strict, attempting to streamline mistakes and run a tighter ship.
The death of the printed yearbook is not uncommon for high schools and colleges a like. Purdue’s Debris and Virginia Wesleyan’s Sandpiper both stopped printing yearbooks in 2008. Earlham College in Indiana has released its annual on a disk for years.
What’s happening here?
The main issue is a lack in interest. If a college can only sell 27 or 28 yearbooks to its entire study body, then there is just not an incentive to create a publication that cost a bundle to create, especially in today’s economy.
However, there are positives about marrying yearbooks to the web. For example, there are colleges that have created archives of yearbooks online.
Penn State University’s La Vie, which dates back to 1890, is now a digitally archived resource. Anyone wishing to view photographs that document graduations, proms, and the like can simply visit the University’s resources link.
After all, few people will see an annual if it’s hidden in their father’s study.
Good things are happening from digitizing yearbooks. Many colleges and universities are able to make digital archives of every yearbook ever printed, making genealogical searches more practical. Partnerships have formed making the process even easier.
For example, one of the forerunners of this practice is the partnership of North Carolina yearbooks. The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is partnering up with schools throughout the state to continue to expand the current wealth of information.
After perusing through photographs from La Vie and the Digital NC exhibit, I can see the positives of digitizing yearbooks. However, I hope that we don’t completely do away with the printed counterparts.
I worry about the future of printed yearbooks. This all comes down to the ever-growing gap between print and digitized media. I just hope that newer versions of yearbooks can spark the same conversations between father and daughter. It’s difficult to connect with others if there’s a computer screen acting as moderator.