By Jim Hynes
Time flies. About a decade’s worth a week these days if you are one of the people working on the McGill Library’s digital yearbook project.
The yearbook project was the Library’s contribution to the University’s 190th anniversary celebrations. When the call went out last April to all McGill faculties and units for innovative and interesting ideas for marking the milestone, Dr. Richard Virr, the Library’s Chief Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections, proposed digitizing all of the Old McGill yearbooks and building a website to showcase them on.
“There are so many fantastic treasures in the Library collection, but the yearbooks, are McGill,” said Amy Buckland, the eScholarship, ePublishing and Digitization Coordinator at the Library and the project management lead on digitization aspects. “It made sense to bring these faces forward for a celebration like the 190th.”
Project staff, about 15 in all including four work-study students, worked through the spring and summer, first examining and selecting the best copies of yearbooks for digitization and then producing high-resolution scans of every page in each one. They were assisted by some University Archives staff, who also helped them source materials.
Once the books were digitized, optical character recognition software was used to make the text on each page searchable. The team then manually verified that all of the names in the graduating photos had been correctly captured.
From September to mid October, the yearbook website was designed, developed and tested.
“We used existing open source software to power both the searching and book viewing functionality on the site,” said Web Services Librarian Edward Bilodeau, responsible for web design and the project management lead on web-related aspects. “This enabled us to produce a great website very quickly.”
The resulting site, launched on Homecoming weekend, is a smart looking, fun and easy to use one with yearbooks organized by decade for simple browsing and featuring a simple search engine allowing users to look for friends, family (H.F. Hynes, Medicine, 1923) or the famous, like actor William Shatner (1952, page 249) or one-time Debating Union President, Leonard Norman Cohen (1955, page 75).
“The site was designed to make it easy for people to browse or search the collection of books,” Bilodeau explained. “It was very important that someone looking for a specific person would be able to find them using the search feature.”
The digital yearbook site, initially featuring Old McGill editions from 1898 to 1940 and launched with the help of social media and word-of-mouth campaigns, proved immediately popular. And two more decades of yearbooks have already been added. Organizers plan to keep adding a decade a week until every yearbook is featured.
“We are expecting that as we start to put up the later years, more people will be using the site to find themselves or their parents in these yearbooks,” Bilodeau said.
Once all the yearbooks are in place, the project team will begin looking at ways to improve the current interface and of better showcasing some of the images, artwork, and photos found in them. They’ll also start investigating ways to use the viewer technology with other digitized items from Library collections.
“Providing access to this valuable resource to historians, family researchers, the McGill community, and the public at large is hugely important,” said Dr. Colleen Cook, Trenholme Dean of Libraries. “Countless people have found lost relatives and can now access a part of McGill history at any time, from anywhere. Plus, yearbooks are fun for everyone and old yearbooks are even more fun.”
See for yourself how much fun the digital yearbooks are by visiting http://yearbooks.mcgill.ca/.