New project puts college history online

July 7, 2014

Have you ever wondered what classes were offered at the LaGrange Female Institute (now LaGrange College) in 1848, or what the rules were for visiting off campus in 1932? (Hint: It involved a letter from parents to the president of the college).

Those, and many more answers are readily available now, thanks to a digitization project at Lewis Library.

Charlene Baxter, Assistant Professor and Librarian for Public and Technical Services, said the library has been working with Lyrasis, a nonprofit library organization that coordinates projects around the Southeast.

"We started talking with them about two years ago," she said. "They secured a grant from the Alfred Sloan Foundation to help libraries digitize unique materials from their collections.

We're one of several hundred institutions who are involved with this project."

Baxter said digitization is a growing trend.

"The histories of colleges are important, not only to alumni, but to their families and historians as well," she said. "There is a push now for libraries to not only have their collections within the walls of their institutions, but to have them available online. Now researchers don't have to plan visits around our operating hours, and they don't have to worry about harming delicate materials."

The process is simple, she said. Librarians choose printed materials from the collection, then send them to Lyrasis, who scans them into a computer. Lyrasis turns that material over to another nonprofit organization, Internet Archives, who puts the materials on its website.

"Anyone can access the Internet Archives site," she said. "It is as simple as doing a Google search for, say, LaGrange College Quadrangle. That will take you to material that is on that site."

So far, Lewis Library has digitized a large collection of catalogs, Quadrangle yearbooks and student handbooks.

Jacque Hornsby, Archives and Circulation Assistant, said the oldest digitized document is the catalog from 1848.

"There may have been earlier catalogs, but they were lost when the academic building burned in 1860," she said. "The greatest gap in the catalogue holdings occurs from 1860 through 1876."

Baxter said these historical publications are invaluable.

"They are a wonderful source of information for anyone who might be interested in women's studies, history, the history of education, " she said. "You can follow the whole development of teacher training by looking at what courses were offered throughout the years, and see how courses and requirements have changed."

Until the 1930s, the catalogs also contained a complete list of alumni. And until the 1940s, they also included a complete roster of each class.

"Before the 1920s, LaGrange also included a preparatory school program, and had the equivalent of some high school classes," she said. "These documents are wonderful historical documents."

The catalogs also served as public relations materials and an alumni bulletin.

"They were mailed to a wide variety of people," she said. "They weren't just something that an incoming freshman would get. They had pictures that were meant to keep the alumni up to date, so they could be recruiters for the college."

The library's collection of digital yearbooks date from 1914.

"The first issue was titled 'The Sillabub,' " Hornsby said. "It proved to be so expensive that the next issue did not appear until 1917. Renamed 'The Quadrangle,' it remained in publication through 2009."

Also available are student handbooks from 1926 through 2012. As of this year, student handbooks are not published in hard copy. They are available digitally through the college's website.

Hornsby said the present digitization project will add the 1919 student handbook, as well as those from the early 1930s.

"A recent gift provided these handbooks as well as early issues of 'The Scroll,' the college's literary magazine," she said.

"The Scroll" didn't start out as a magazine, though.

"It was the campus newspaper from 1922 until fall 1933, when it became the literary publication," she said. "Our collection of 'The Scroll' is fairly complete, but we always hope early issues will be located and donated to us. "

Also missing are yearbooks for the years 1915, 1916, 1919, 1920, 1922, 1924, 1926, 1927, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

"We'd love to be able to add those publications," she said. "All we'd need to do is borrow them to have them scanned, and they then would be returned to the owners."

The final part of the project involves the college newspaper, "The Hilltop News."

"It is the college's most continuously published student newspaper," she said. "We have issues from 1958 through 1970. Beginning with 1973, significant gaps in the collection extend through the 1980s and 1990s. As always we are hoping that donations will fill in the gaps."

The current digitization project is almost complete, Baxter said. The newspapers have been scanned and corrections are being made.

"We hope to have them available within six months," said Baxter.

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