Your Community: Donated yearbooks serve as unsung reference materials

Local History Librarian Amanda Wahlmeier displays the title page to the Literature section in the 1923 yearbook for Shawnee Mission Rural High School.

Perhaps it was the big hair. Or the wide-collared shirt. Or the sideburns. If it’s finally time to discard that old high school yearbook — the one with the picture you have despised all these years — the Johnson County Library has a message for you: Don’t pitch it!

“We are happy to take them,” said Local History Librarian Amanda Wahlmeier.

The Library is always looking to add to its collection of nearly 520 high school yearbooks from districts within Johnson County.

The oldest one in the collection is the 1923 yearbook from Shawnee Mission Rural High, the precursor to what is now Shawnee Mission North. And yes, you can also find the high school photos of local kids who made it big, such as Shawnee Mission West graduates Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis.

The yearbooks are available in print on about 10 shelves in the northwest corner of the Central Resource Library. Included in the regional reference section, the yearbooks sit among a lot of technical documents on topics like sanitary sewer regulations and city code regulations.

Even the most arcane publications help researchers, and Wahlmeier said yearbooks might be an overlooked historical reference.

For instance, Wahlmeier said, yearbooks can help genealogists track down birth years for relatives by working backward from their class years. The Library also sometimes fields calls from school staff themselves wanting to track down some school history.

More generally, she said, the yearbooks are “a reflection of the community to see what the school activities were and what the kids were up to any given year.”

The yearbooks serve as year-by-year time capsules to chronicle broader trends, such as the popularity of different names to the changing nature of school activities.

That old Shawnee Mission North yearbook, for instance, featured a literature section where students submitted poems and other writings.

Sports have always garnered significant coverage, but more recent yearbooks also capture the emergence of more diverse clubs and activities. The homecoming parade has stood the test of time.

“It’s interesting to see what stays around and what doesn’t,” Wahlmeier said.

Notes inside donated yearbooks can also add a lighthearted view of student life, as in one missive written by a student in a yearbook apparently donated by a teacher.

“Even though I didn’t make a very good grade,” the student wrote, “I feel like I have learned something this year. I enjoyed your jokes. Have a spectacular summer.”

One caveat, however: If you don’t want that love note from an old flame or that reference to idiotic high school behavior out there for the world to see, you will probably want to review written messages from classmates before donating the yearbooks.

Residents interested in donating to the Library collection can email Wahlmeier at or call her at 913.826.4402. You can also browse digitized yearbooks from the Shawnee Mission School district through

Johnson County Library – Nurturing the Community’s Collective Wisdom