Library Builds Local High School Yearbook Archive

August 24, 2017
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Red Bank Public Library Executive Director Elizabeth McDermott flips through an old borough high school yearbook, as the library works to digitize the volumes for preservation.

By John Burton |

RED BANK — Within the pages of our high school yearbooks are our futures, our dreams and hopes. Looking back allows us to see who we were, and reflect upon who we’ve become and what other generations may think of us.

With its ambitious two-year-old project to seek out and digitize years of local high school yearbooks underway, the Red Bank Public library is hoping to preserve this opportunity for posterity by making the content available on the library’s website,

“There is just so much history in these books,” said Elizabeth McDermott, the executive director of the Red Bank library, at 84 West Front St.

Thanks to the generosity of First Investors Bank, which awarded the library $1,500, and with the donation and loaning of some volumes, the library has begun adding to the collection by including yearbooks from Red Bank Catholic High School, 112 Broad St.

“I just never got any traction,” in trying to acquire RBC’s yearbooks in the past, she acknowledged. But with the recent celebration and publicity of the library’s 80th anniversary, it has led some RBC alumni to offer to lend their hard copies so the library can have them transcribed to digital form.

The library has been collecting and maintaining high school yearbooks for a number of years, making them accessible to the public and storing them in the library’s Red Bank History Room on the facility’s second floor. “If we can digitize, we can provide a complete history,” she said.

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McDermott acknowledged, sadly, there have been instances when people have damaged the library’s collection of yearbooks by cutting photos out of them.

The library has been accumulating yearbooks from Red Bank High School beginning with the 1922 edition. “We don’t have a complete collection,” yet, McDermott acknowledged, “but it’s pretty darn good.” She hopes to continue filling the gaps with the help of alumni.

The library is also collecting volumes from Red Bank Regional High School, in Little Silver. RBR opened in the mid-1970s, accepting students from Red Bank, as well as Little Silver and Shrewsbury Borough. The Red Bank High School building, 101 Harding Road, later became the borough’s middle school. The Red Bank Library has RBR yearbooks going back to 1980 and now offers many of the years in digital form on the library’s website.

More recently the library staff has gotten some volumes from Christian Brothers Academy, a private all-boys Catholic high school in Lincroft, allowing the library to begin that collection.

There are services that provide yearbook access online, but for a price. “What we’re doing is giving everyone access for free,” McDermott noted. The library uses the services of Innovative Document Services, East Brunswick, to transfer the hard copy books to digital form. That costs about $79 per volume, McDermott said, noting that can strain the small library’s limited budget. She hopes others will follow First Investors’ lead and offer their financial support so the preservation program can continue.

Remember, she pointed out, hard copy, paper yearbooks are subject to damage and the whim of someone’s eventual housecleaning, making those volumes vulnerable. “I try to encourage people,” she said, “don’t wait for the next storm, or the kids throwing them in the trash.”

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Because, if they’re part of the permanent collection, “You can always come see them.”

This project, she observed, taps into a collective consciousness, something in all of us, to see the people we, or family members, were and became. “Each time you look at a yearbook you see something different,” McDermott said. You see hairstyles, fashion, auto models of years gone past. And younger people looking back are “surprised by what was going on in that timeframe,” she observed.

“It really highlights the love people have for high school.”

What McDermott looks for when she flips through the books is the names of the longstanding and prominent families, whose names have become street names in some instances. “The names, they just keep coming up.”

This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.



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