URBANA — If students could sit down at a computer and pull up 90 years of history about dress codes, discipline and even school sports, they might get some interesting perspective on the history of their high school.
That's the goal of a project happening at Urbana High School, as history teacher Michael Pollock and journalism and English teacher Erin Ludwick teach students how to scan and make searchable the archive of the school's newspapers and yearbooks.
Pollock became involved with digitizing old yearbooks after working with Noah Lenstra, University of Illinois doctoral student in library science who worked on digitizing local yearbooks for the eBlack Champaign-Urbana effort (for more information: http://eblackcu.net ).
Under the grant, Urbana High School (as well as Centennial and Central high schools) had paid interns digitizing yearbooks last summer.
Pollock said he wanted to keep students digitizing media, even outside of the grant's scope.
Plus, as a history teacher, he liked the idea of making primary resources — including the student newspaper, the Echo — readily available. The school has issues dating back into the 1920s, but they're kept in a file cabinet in the newspaper office off Ludwick's classroom.
Pollock, Ludwick and their students are at the beginning of the project. Lenstra came in for a training session, and they had to get approval from Urbana's central office to buy software for the project.
They're starting by scanning the documents — most-recent materials first, while students get the hang of it, and then older, more fragile editions after that.
Pollock expects to ask advice from those who work at the Champaign County Historical Archive at the Urbana Free Library, he said. Then, once the items are scanned, the students will focus on converting them into searchable files.
Ludwick said the project will take awhile, "easily into next year," she said, and once the archives are done, she hopes to keep adding new editions to the digital files.
Right now, seven students are working on the project. They're student aides, who earn half-credits during free periods helping Urbana High School's teachers with errands, copying or even in the classroom. But the students helping Pollock and Ludwick digitize the student yearbooks will learn how to navigate specific software to make the documents searchable by word or phrase.
One is senior Zelda Galewsky, who said she's been scanning more recent copies of the student newspaper so far, so she remembers most of what's in them.
"Once they start getting older, I think they will be more interesting," Galewsky said.
She uses the school's photocopier to scan the documents, carefully following the instructions on a one-page printout Lenstra gave students, with information about how to carefully name the files they scan. The file name includes the date of the publication and the date it's scanned. She also follows instructions to save the files in the right format and in the right place, on the correct server.
It takes some finesse.
Galewsky carefully smooths the pages over the copier before pulling down the lid. She then has 60 seconds to turn the page, in order to keep all the pages in the same digital file.
She originally thought that would be "hectic" but now doesn't have a problem with it.
Once she scans an entire newspaper, she heads back to the newspaper office to check that her scans are legible and straight. If they're not, she'll head back to the copier to redo whatever pages require it.
Lenstra said projects like these are important as more people use digital technology in research.
"If (the newspapers and yearbooks) are not online, in some cases, it's as if they didn't exist to people who are looking for information only through a computer," Lenstra said. "Also, (digitizing) local history with this technology can help show people that digital technologies can be used in ways perhaps people hadn't thought of before."