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

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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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/12/15”

  1. Elisia Says:

    Just out of curiosity, what’s that on the yearbook cover? It looks like a cross between a fishing rod and a lightsaber!

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Elisia: you know, at first I just thought it was a spindle (part of a loom for weaving textiles, which is a huge part of Lowell’s history), but now that I look at it closely, I think it really can only be a fishing rod lightsaber. At least, not my idea of a spindle (spindles in shuttles).

    Now I’m curious though, so I’ll go to the mills at the Lowell National History Park the next chance I get and see if I can spot it in their looms. It kind of looks like the cylinders sticking up on the top left in this picture, but I’m not sure – when I find out, I will post it here.

  3. Elisia Says:

    It’s a textile spindle! I searched for “spindle types” and happened upon a parts manufacturer website. Further search of “textile spindle” gave me quite a few of these:



    I think a fishingsaber sounds much more exciting, though.

  4. Jill Says:

    Ancestry.com also has a collection of yearbooks digitized and searchable- of course, you need an account to access it, but many libraries do. Unfortunately, they’re no longer digitizing yearbooks and adding them to their collections. My library had extra copies of our high school yearbooks and I contacted them to see if they would want our copies to digitize. They emailed me back to say they’re no longer doing yearbooks, which is a shame in my opinion.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jill: thank you, I did not know that. And it is a shame – I’m sure it’s expensive, but it does seem like a valuable genealogy resource. I’m sure it was a business decision, so maybe they decided there were enough alternatives available that it wasn’t profitable enough for them anymore – which would be good news, if you’re just looking for yearbook photos. Wishful thinking though, I suppose.