Wednesday, December 7, 2016

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This is one of 35,000 images owned by SDSU Special Collections with limited or no descriptive information. This is one of 35,000 images owned by SDSU Special Collections with limited or no descriptive information.

SDSU Mystery Photos

Alumni, faculty and staff can help solve campus history mysteries.
By Tobin Vaughn

One black and white photo from 1966 shows a young Bill Cosby, presumably during a campus visit, sitting on a desk eating pizza.  Who is the woman with the notebook and pen in her hand who appears to be interviewing the comedian?

Another picture features former SDSU President Thomas B. Day next to a man and woman at a 1994 commencement ceremony.  Like Day, they are wearing ceremonial robes, but what are their names?

The photos are among an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 images belonging to the University Archives Photograph Collection.  They’re housed in Special Collections at the SDSU Library and are part of a six-year digitizing project intended to both preserve the images and make them more widely available on line.

Included in the project are prints, negatives, slides and paper images of everything concerning the university over the course of more than a century.  Hundreds of the items were stored with limited or no descriptive information.

"Give us a clue"

“There's nothing written on the backs of the photographs,” says Lisa Lamont, a digital collection librarian who is managing the digitizing project.

“Basically, they were given to the archives by any department or person on campus. There's no documentation with the photograph, so we've got lots of just unidentified-man-at-a-podium kind of photographs or three ladies donating books to the library, but we don't know who the ladies are.” 

That’s why Lamont is asking for help. 

She wants alumni, faculty, staff or anyone with information about the pictures to check out the flickr page she has established and share what they know.  

"I would love to get some identifications of people, events, places — any information they can hang on any of these photographs would help us,” she says. “Even if they don't know who the people are, if they could give us a clue as to where we would start looking for some information, even that would be helpful."

Lamont is working with a metadata specialist to gather as much information as possible about each image and include it in an accompanying description.  She urges contributors to be as detailed as possible in sharing what they know.

"In Flickr, people can actually go in and comment on the photo or actually put some tags on it so they can type right into it," she said. “Any information you might have would be great even if you just give us a lead.  If people put comments in, it might even spark other people’s memories.  We're going to try and verify as much as we can."

Completing the project

With the help of paid students, Lamont says she may be able to complete the scanning portion of the project by the end of the year.  The metadata will be ongoing for some time.

“It takes a lot longer to describe a photograph than it takes to actually scan it," she observes.

The librarian says the staff intends to maintain between 50 and 100 images on the Flickr site at any one time.  New photos will be added to replace those that are identified.

"That way it might inspire people to come back to the site later,” Lamont says, “and it won't be so overwhelming then, too."

You can help

Can you help identify any of the SDSU mystery photographs?  You may also share your thoughts with SDSU librarians.


Mystery Photos