By BERT GAMBINI
Published May 1, 2023
“Deep rumblings in the corridors of Hayes Hall announced the arrival of the ‘Buffalonian,’” the editorial staff wrote in 1934 in the pages of the reimagined yearbook they had proudly compiled for UB.
And while no seismic activity accompanies the related announcement that you’re reading right now, University Libraries is nevertheless equally pleased to announce that the entire 67-year publication run of “The Buffalonian” is now available online.
This latest addition to the libraries’ digital collections provides visitors with its share of sentimental reminders of the past, while also serving in a much broader sense as a comprehensive historical sweep of the university from the perspective of its students through seven decades of the 20th century.
“This is a great example for how University Archives can provide a resource that reaches beyond campus and community to impact populations outside of Western New York,” says Hope Dunbar, University Libraries archivist. “It puts primary source material that is text searchable in the hands of people who need that information, wherever they may be.”
Analytics already suggest that visitors are browsing the collection from points across the country. In fact, since “The Buffalonian” went live on March 23, it has quickly risen to the third-most trafficked site among the Digital Collections, trailing only the illustrations of Gustave Doré and a collection of material related to the Love Canal environmental disaster.
“The Buffalonian’s” history begins with the demise of its predecessor, the “Iris,” which has been digitally accessible since June 2019. The “Iris” ceased publication in 1932. UB had no yearbook in 1933, and initial news of an “Iris” successor inspired few subscriptions until the staff of the proposed “Buffalonian” began an intense promotional campaign, complete with an aerial advertising flight over campus. Those efforts eventually resulted in 300 people reserving copies, launching a publication run that continued until 2001.
That’s nearly 14,000 pages. And Jessica Hollister has seen every one of them.
Hollister is a visiting assistant librarian for University Libraries. She started scanning physical copies of “The Buffalonian” while she was a UB student. The project was dormant during the pandemic, but immediately resumed when Dunbar came on board as an archivist at the beginning of 2023.
In a couple of months, Hollister finished digitizing the collection when she scanned an undated image of a developing North Campus landscape, with future roads etched in soil surrounding a nearly complete structure that would become the Cooke-Hochstetter complex.
In the course of completing the digitization, Hollister came across pictures of her parents, both former UB students; leather-helmeted football players; and even a senior portrait taken of a student in full clown makeup, inspired perhaps by a campus club at that time that practiced “clownology.”
Each volume also spoke of that year’s particular historical moments, or at least its mood.
“There is a clear tone that’s communicated in these yearbooks,” says Hollister. “There’s a carefree feeling implied in the imagery found in volumes from the early 1960s that’s very different from the darker, politically charged pages you encounter in the yearbooks from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“The change is dramatic.”
The yearbooks will always offer some measure of nostalgia, but, upon closer examination, they also become useful instruments that provide unexpected insights.
“I’m always surprised at the ways researchers use primary sources,” says Dunbar. “We can determine physical locations, see how things once existed or find people in places.
“They are a great record of events, but there is so much more.”
There’s also a certain security that accompanies a digitized collection. Physical materials are subject to deterioration, but a digital collection provides durability.
“As archivists we’re always thinking about longevity and stewardship,” says Dunbar. “We’re the beneficiaries of efforts by earlier archivists who preserved the materials we work with today.”
“The Buffalonian” published its final edition in 2001 when the scope of the growing university made it impossible to capture UB’s annual identity in a single volume. The university’s individual schools and colleges still provide snapshots of each year’s progress, but the era of a holistic view of campus life between two bound covers has passed.
“A lot of questions we get asked in University Archives bring us back to UB publications, like ‘The Buffalonian,’” says Dunbar. “And we’re already hearing from researchers who are excited about the public availability of this collection.”