An old high school yearbook can be a fascinating time capsule of memories, fashions, and cultural trends from the era of its creation. For people researching genealogy or history, however, yearbooks can also serve as valuable regional resources. Thanks to the efforts of the Library of Virginia’s Library Development and Networking Division, you can now browse yearbooks online from high schools across Virginia through the Yearbook Digitization Project, funded by the Library Services and Technology Act. The collection currently includes 1,647 yearbooks from as early as 1912 to as recent as 1977, selected as the stopping point for copyright purposes. (The York County Public Library has included Tabb and York High School yearbooks from 1958-1977.)
“Yearbooks are popular items at public libraries,” said project coordinator Rose Schooff, a technology consultant in the division. “People look at them for genealogy purposes—and just for fun. But getting handled too much is hard on them. Digitizing yearbooks allows access to the content while helping to preserve the originals.”
The earliest volumes in the project’s collection don’t reflect the classic yearbook style. They’re text-heavy and focus on stories of the local community. By the 1920s and 1930s, however, Virginia’s high school yearbooks evolved to a photograph-heavy format with student portraits, group shots, and coverage of school activities.
“I enjoy seeing the changing fashions and the types of clubs, groups, and sports represented,” said Schooff. “Even the advertisements serve a purpose—you see the history of the local economy. The graphic design evolves also. Some of the early covers are wonderful and the psychedelic themes used in some of the 1970s yearbooks are fun, too. I really like Petersburg’s collections—The Lion from Peabody High School and Petersburg High School’s yearbook, The Missile. Through the years you see them go from segregated to integrated.”
There are a variety of ways to search the collections (libraries, schools, topics, and subjects) and within individual yearbooks you can search by keyword, including people’s names. “We found photos of Moses Malone in the 1974 edition of The Missile from Petersburg High School,” said Schooff about the legendary basketball player (1955–2015) and Virginia native. “You never know what you might find.”
Henderson, Ann E., editor. “School Days.” Broadside: the Magazine of the Library of Virginia, 2017, pp. 2–5, www.lva.virginia.gov/news/broadside/2017-Summer.pdf.