or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 7/12/15

   July 18th, 2015 Brian Herzog

the spindle yearbook from 1951Here's a question I may not have been able to answer successfully a few years ago - actually, luck had a lot to do with this success, because even for my community the answer would still be mixed.

A patron emailed in to ask,

Do you know who would have Lowell High School yearbooks available?

Lowell is the city next door to the town in which I work. We have a print collection of Chelmsford High School yearbooks, so my first thought (that is, my first hope) was that the Lowell Library would have the same for their high school*.

Unfortunately, when I called over, the librarian there said they do not have a yearbook collection. She suggested the Lowell Historical Society, which was a good idea. I looked up their number online, but unfortunately they weren't open right then.

However, their website did list their research collections, which didn't seem to include the yearbooks. But for whatever reason, this made me think I should search online for the yearbooks, to see if any other groups might have them.

A search for "lowell high school yearbooks" lead me to a website that did indeed have them - or at least, they were a nicer portal, with some history, to the Internet Archive's collection of them.

So that was pretty happy - astounding, in fact, and it looks like only online since 2012. I emailed the information to the patron and never heard back, which I took to mean he's still poring over the online versions. Great.

And as I said, if he had been after Chelmsford High yearbooks, my answer would have been different - we have easy access to the print copies in the library, but there is no online collection (that I know of). So, this might finally prompt me to get OCI or the Boston Public Library to scan them for us. Yay for the free digitization services that can put these wonderful resources online. But oh, having enough time during the workday to actually do my job would be such a luxury.


*I'm a firm believer that public libraries should all have complete collections of the local high school yearbooks, but this is much easier said than done. The CHS yearbook advisor and I have a good working relationship, and it is still unnecessarily difficult to make this happen. The only thing more difficult is a non-student trying to get access to the school's collection of yearbooks.

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The Yearbook Project from OCI

   November 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

OCI ScannerI was recently forwarded this email, concerning a yearbook scanning project that is free to libraries:

We are contacting you in regards to a FREE project we're doing to digitize the High-School yearbooks at all of the libraries in your state. The program is called "The Yearbook Project", and it is sponsored by the Records Conversion Department at OCI; as I previously stated.COMPLETELY FREE. We even pay the S & H.

The Yearbook Project came about after it was brought to our attention that high schools and local libraries throughout Oklahoma were losing their yearbooks. Some were being destroyed by natural disasters, and others were being destroyed by people cutting images out of them. Once they are gone or damaged it is nearly impossible to replace them and these yearbooks are irreplaceable because of their historical value alone. The Records Conversion and Digital Imaging departments also use this program as an advertising tool to highlight the quality of work we do here at OCI. There's no obligation for our other services, we would just hope you keep us in mind if you ever do need them.

OCI is a state agency located in Lexington, Oklahoma. Our Records Conversion department has been in business for thirty (30) years and consists of four areas; Data Entry, Digital Imaging, Image Review & Verification, and Microfilm. We do records conversion for every state agency in Oklahoma. These include; the Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Labor, The Oklahoma Supreme Court, and the Attorney General's Office, just to name a few. If you would like to visit our website it is www.ocisales.com.

Our overhead non-destructive scanning method ensures that the yearbooks are not damaged and that they are returned in their original condition. You can view sample yearbooks and read about Non-Destructive Scanning by clicking on the following links: Click here to view yearbook examples or Non-Destructive Scanning. The yearbooks are scanned at 300 dpi and saved in a [jpeg] format. Meaning, they are done with Publisher Quality so that libraries can digitally reprint any books, just a few pages, or a single image from the DVD for anyone who would like a copy.


  • Archival purposes
  • Reduces storage space and cost
  • Protection of valuable and irreplaceable materials
  • Ability to provide full or partial reprints from the DVD final product
  • DVD provides easy access and viewing of scanned material
  • DVD allows viewing without physically handling the original material
  • No cost to libraries participating in the Yearbook Program

After the yearbooks are scanned, they are returned to your library along with a set of DVD's containing each yearbook. These DVD's belong to the library and you can then load it in your computer database for everyone to access. In addition, if you would like to contact the area high schools and add to your current collection, we will provide a second set of DVD's to share with the schools (also free) and their books would be returned to you. Just be sure to let us know which school(s) to include an extra set for. The only thing needed to be done from your side is for you and/or your staff to box them up (no more than 25-30 in a copier-paper size box, please) tape them securely and make two inventory sheets, one for yourself and one to be put in the box. You'll then call us and let us know what day you would like scheduled for pick-up and we will take care of the rest with FED-EX. We will send you the shipping-labels via-email and the books will be returned to you within 5-6 weeks. Whether you have only a few or hundreds, we would be happy to be of service to you.

If you are interested in having your yearbooks converted into a digital format at no cost, please contact me at (405) 527-0833, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. central time. If you have any questions or need any references you can e-mail me at ocirc@doc.state.ok.us Also, feel free to forward this email to any area Branches or Directors in your Library System so that they may benefit from this offer as well.

From the limited research I did, I learned that "OCI" stands for the Oklahoma Correctional Industries, which explains why this service can be offered free - having inmates doing the work gives them something productive to do, while at the same time benefiting libraries who could not otherwise afford the scanning.

Has anyone used OCI for yearbook scanning, or heard about the quality of their work?

In our case (and all of Massachusetts), we have scanning services available through the Boston Public Library, in conjunction with the Internet Archive. However, I thought this was interesting enough to post, to hopefully find out more about it. If you know any details, please share in the comments - thanks.

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Reference Question of the Week – 7/31/11

   August 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

The Outsiders, by S. E. HintonWhen I came into work one day, I was told that three people were already working on this question and no one could find an answer - we still don't have anything conclusive, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

A student from a private school a few towns over came in to start her summer reading project. One of the books she has to read is S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and in addition to the typical "read and describe" work, this student's assignment also said,

...after you finished reading the book, answer the following questions. If you need help, ask the librarian at your public library for assistance.

  1. The Outsiders begins and ends with the same sentence - does this technique have a name, and if so, what is it?
  2. ...

First of all, it's great that the assignment encourages the students to seek out librarians for help - although bad in this case that we're failing her. Second, I dislike the "does this have a name, and if so, what is it?" - it makes me feel like we're not finding an answer because there isn't an answer, but I don't want to give up looking.

Anyway, of course the first thing I did was grab a copy of The Outsiders to check out the sentences (copy/pasted here courtesy of LibraryThing's Common Knowledge)
First sentence:

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

Last Sentence:

And I finally began like this: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home...

After describing the question to me, my coworker said that they had consulted every literary dictionary and reference book in the library, and also any literary terms website they could find - but hadn't been able to find anything.

My first thought was to try the Descriptionary, which is perfectly designed for this type of question. It's a dictionary that lists information by description, rather than by word, so it lets you look something up by what it is and the book tells you what it's called. However, in this case none of the descriptions matched a story beginning and ending with the same sentence, so no luck there.

My next thought was to ask one of our library volunteers - when she's not volunteering for the library, she's a Professor of Literature in the English Department of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. If anyone would know this, she must.

Later that day I spoke to her and explained the question, and she said she had no idea. She felt that if there was a term for it, it would be a term of rhetoric, so I should search those instead of just literary terms. She also said she'd ask around the department and let me know if any of her colleagues knew.

I searched online for rhetoric terms, and found quite a few glossaries, and although many terms were extremely close, none were exactly right.

Later I heard back from the volunteer - she said that no one she spoke with could identify it, and the only suggestion anyone had, however dubious, was "circular construction." That sounds good on its face, but I couldn't find it listed in any of the glossaries I consulted.

Frustrating. This all happened on Thursday and Friday, and I haven't yet contacted the patron with an answer. So if anyone knows, please comment.


Ouroboros - snake eating its tailI read The Outsiders when I was young and don't really remember it, so I was interested to learn about this first/last sentence trick in the book. The book ends with a student being assigned a writing project, and he begins his assignment by writing the first sentence of the novel. This leads to the conclusion that the novel itself was the student's assignment, which is fun because it blends reality with fiction, and turns the story into a sort of mobius strip of plot.

It also reminded me of the imagery of the snake eating its tail - which got me wondering if there is a term for that symbol. It turns out there is: Ouroboros. When I do call this student back on Monday, she'll have all kinds of paths to follow.

Update 8/26/11:
After getting comments on this post, I spoke with the patron by phone, and emailed her a few links. A couple weeks later, she emailed me back:

Thanks for the answer and all the hard work everyone did. I just e-mailed my teacher about the summer assignment and she said circular structure is the correct answer.


That's great - thanks for helping, everyone.

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Reference Question of the Week – 7/8/07

   July 14th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford High School Football PlayersA patron came in and asked a very reasonable question:

Can you show me where you keep the high school yearbooks?

Ahem. You'd think that the public library in any town would have a complete set of the town's high school yearbooks, but here, in Chelmsford, that is not the case, and it has been a pet peeve of mine since I started working here.

We have yearbooks for the years 1944-1951, 1961, 1975, 1982, 1988-1992, 1996, and even though I've been trying to work through contacts at the high school, we still haven't gotten the Class of 2007's yearbook yet. If someone is looking for one we don't have, all I can do is refer them to the school's office, which has a complete set.

However, in this case, the patron had a bit more information. She said a friend of hers told her the school's photographer had pictures up on their website, which you could view of purchase. Huh.

After a bit of digging, we found that Chelmsford High uses Burlington Studio of Photography, which did indeed have online photographs from many schools, including Chelmsford. This find made the patron happy, as she was able to browse around and find a few shots of her son, without having to purchase the entire yearbook.

But it made me wonder, too, about whether all these kids signed waivers for their photos to be published online. And besides, it's really not quite the same, picking and choosing like that, instead of having the complete yearbook. Perhaps I'm just old-fashion; perhaps today kids leave comments on other kids' online profiles, rather than signing their yearbooks.

chelmsford, chs, high school, high school yearbook, high school yearbooks, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, yearbook, yearbooks

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