RIP: Yearbooks

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

My yearbooks, from middle school and high school, are tucked away somewhere in my childhood bedroom. Some day, five or ten years from now, I'll crack them open, to look at awkward studio portraits, to read benedictions and valedictions, to search for an embarrassing photo of a now-famous classmate.

I was sad to read that future classes, in colleges and universities especially, might not have yearbooks to look at, to laugh at. Free social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, and online photo websites, like Flickr and Picasa, have eroded yearbook sales.

Ye Domesday Booke, the yearbook at Georgetown University, is poorly funded and understaffed. The yearbook office at Virginia Wesleyan College is filled with old books. (Many students who ordered copies didn't pick them up.) And The Debris, from Purdue University? There will be no 2009 edition.

Do you mourn the dying yearbook? What does it give you that an website can't? Do you have your old yearbooks? Do you look at them with any frequency?

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one of my treasures is my dad's high school yearbook signed by his friend and fellow basketball team member Jackie Robinson, who called my dad a really good athlete!

Sent by Sally Leveille | 3:51 PM | 5-6-2008

My high school yearbook has been a genuine asset over the years. On the other hand, my university yearbook languishes.

Reason: High School enrollment (in 1955) was about 400, whereas the university yearbook catered to 10,000-12,000, which makes it a lot less intimate.

Time marches on, but I think high school year books really are a treasure.

Sent by Tom Emmerson | 3:52 PM | 5-6-2008

As a costume designer for theatre and film my yearbooks as well as others have been invaluable in the research process. I just designed a new musical at the Pasadena Playhouse - MASK - based on the story of Rocky Dennis (the film starred Cher and Eric Stoltz). Access to Rocky's school photos were essential and since My high school years paralleled his--my yearbooks were fun to use. I used my parents books when designing shows set in the late 1930s and 1940s. Its a wonderful window to each generation.

Sent by Maggie Morgan | 3:52 PM | 5-6-2008

I still enjoy looking at both my high school and college yearbooks and thinking about great memories. I live in my hometown so I will often go back and pull out a yearbook when I see a high school classmate whose name I don't remember. I also still enjoy reading all the comments that people wrote in my high school yearbooks as well. I do look at my mom's yearbooks now and remember doing that as I was growing up. It makes me sad to think that people may stop publishing yearbooks.

Sent by Gaby Brucker | 3:54 PM | 5-6-2008

My daughter served on the USS Carl Vinson for 3+ years. She received yearbooks for each cruise. We enjoyed looking at them, seeing her crew-mates, and helping us envision life on board an aircraft carrier.

Sent by Judith Lombardi | 3:55 PM | 5-6-2008

Yearbooks are a valuable genealogical resource. If you look online, there are people who collect old year books from schools over the country for that very purpose. Rather than throw them out, you can donate yearbooks to such people.

Sent by Penny | 3:56 PM | 5-6-2008

My parents' yearbooks come out from time to time, and it's always enjoyable to hear them remenisce about their highschool experience. I grew up in a small community, and had some of the same teachers that taught my parents, and some of the teachers who taught me and my sister were in classes with my parents. It's been a great way to connect, and now I pull out my highschool and college yearbooks to show my current friends how I grew up and the people that have influenced me.

Sent by Dan Hale | 3:57 PM | 5-6-2008

I listened in agony to parts of the program. Children learn from their parents Yearbooks. I looked at my mom the cheerleader and my dad the baseball player, "biggest flirt" completely differently and actually saw them for who they really are (not my childhood impression of them) looking through their yearbooks and what their peers wrote about them in the covers.

I was also the leader of a studnet organization on a small mid-western campus. The debate team was one of the oldest orgs on campus. We had over 100 years of history and tradition. The Yearbooks were our team's only "institutional memory" of who those folks were! We looked through them and were able to get in touch with 40+ years of alumni. All of which were tracked down with Alumni Services. After they were located, we invited them to a reunion and friendships were made, memories were recalled, and a greater sense of purpose for and commitment to our organization resulted because of those yearbooks. To think that some universities are abondoning them is tragic. You are divorcing yourself from your institutional memory and you've stopped recording your ever-expanding history.

Who cares if the students don't particpate? They don't participate in a lot of things that are good for them. Allowing their particpation to drive the decision as is happening at Virginia Weselyen seems remarkably short sighted and myopic.

People can change their pictures on Facebook and MySpace. Those memories can change. Students may be ashamed to join a group on facebook, but they weren't ashamed to go to the meetings. Not everyone is on Facebook. The digital "solutions" aren't solutions at all. At a bear minimum these schools should maintain a digital yearbook that is compiled in a .pdf form in the same computer programs and then just digitally archived.
I understand about the expense, the deforestation, and the lack of interest. I don't understand "forgetting" who did what, who learned what, and what we all did!

Sent by Jason Stone | 4:06 PM | 5-6-2008

In following this thread, thought you might be interested that we are doing a play based on yearbook entries at TAM High School. The project is celebrating the ritual of yearbook writings over the past 100 years at our school drawn from actual yearbooks with original songs and music. The play is called "A Slice Of Pai: 100 Years of Tam Yearbooks" and contains writing spanning yearbooks over that time period performed by high school drama students. It plays May 7-10 and May 24 for the Memorial Day weekend celebration at TAM for alumni at 7 PM at the new Daniel Caldwell Performing Arts Center at Tamalpais High School. Visit www.ctetam.org for more information or call 380-3577.

Thanks,
Susan Brashear
CTE Program Director

Sent by Susan Brashear | 4:38 PM | 5-6-2008

I started a company 4 years ago to save school yearbooks. We work with schools to digitize their old yearbook archives and then make them available on the Internet. We share a significant % of our revenue with the schools in our program. We have signed up most of the top 50 largest universities in the United States. Here is our website->
http://www.e-yearbook.com

If you are with a school that wants to join our program, please contact me via our website.

Thank you!
Bryan Michael
E-Yearbook.com

Sent by Bryan Michael | 5:18 PM | 5-6-2008

My husband and I went to the same high school together, though he was (gasp!) 3 years older than me. We were looking through our yearbooks and through our inscriptions to each other saw how our friendship blossomed from year to year. I hate my pictures, but I love my yearbooks!

Sent by B. Sniatecki | 11:01 PM | 5-6-2008

Yearbooks were designed when individuals could not easily take or print pictures of their experiences. Now that we can all take our own pictures, yearbooks are great as historical resources, but not so much as personal photo albums.
Note: My high school of 600 had a rule that everyone who bought a yearbook would be in the book twice - either in pictures or quotes. This quickly made the yearbook much more popular. Smaller high schools & colleges may want to consider something like this.

Sent by Kelly Nieman Anderson | 9:57 AM | 5-7-2008

AS a high school yearbook advisor, this is a nightmare I face daily. We have discussed going digital and using alternative media, but the truth is, technology evolves too fast to retain information over time. Ten years ago, if we had put our book on a floppy disk, today's viewers would be out of luck if they tried to find a floppy drive on a new computer. The CD will be obsolete soon also. Any other form of the yearbook, including Facebook and MySpace, are only temporary codes termporarily stored on a temporary server. However, 20 years from now, when your Facebook (if the site even still exists) has pictures of your grandkids in place of your old high school pictures, you can still pull out your hardcopy, paper yearbook and relive the memories. LONG LIVE THE YEARBOOK!

Sent by Elizabeth Buckhold | 10:29 AM | 5-7-2008

To me and others like me, I think my parents say a lot that I wanted to know about them because I was no close to them and also my friend who was adopted can get a glimpse of his biological parents- he was adopted and other friends whose parents died when they were young and we would never have that acess online. I feel saddened that a yearbook will be a loss of great resource, but maybe something will come to replace it that anyone might be able to access later. There is one upside to myspace though it that your memories are personalized by your own making, and not uniform school pictures that no one looks good in like passports or driver's licence.

Sent by sara in dallas | 1:38 PM | 5-8-2008

Yearbooks are not dead. Digital backup and photos are great, but paper survives computer crashes, changing file formats, internet website demises, etc.

If you had to choose between carefully turning the pages of your deceased great-grandparents or parents yearbooks that they had, or looking at a cold website, which would you choose? I would choose the yearbook that they had-- it's charming, aged, and signed by their friends.

Sent by someone | 1:54 AM | 6-8-2008