The UNB Class Composite and Group Photographs at UNB Archives & Special Collections are a significant resource for university staff and alumni, external researchers, and genealogists. But these valuable photos have been under-used and largely inaccessible for a number of reasons:
- Most are mounted in ornate wooden frames, and are under glass, making them very heavy. This, coupled with the fact that many are oversized (the largest measuring approximately 5 ft x 7 ft) made retrieval cumbersome.
- Proper photo storage racks were not available which resulted in the photos being stored, by size, in any available nook and cranny within the secure stack area, making retrieval a "guessing game."
- Access to the photos was limited to a generic index entry as "Class Photographs", followed by the year of the photo. It was, therefore, impossible to find an individual's picture using only their name.
- Provision of high-quality hard copy images of individual graduates involved complex arrangements with UNB’s Media Services' staff photographers.
- In some cases, the only available image of a student particularly in the 19th century, may only be found on the class composite photograph (publication of UNB yearbooks was not regularized until the 1940s; a smattering of photos began appearing in the University Monthly / Brunswickan, the student newspaper, only in the early 1900s).
These factors, along with the availability of digital imaging expertise and technology in the UNB’s Centre for Digital Scholarship, made the Archives' composite photo collection a perfect candidate for digitization. In February 2005, Archives' staff, in collaboration with UNB’s Library Systems Group and Centre for Digital Scholarship, embarked on a multi-year imaging/indexing project which was launched to the public in 2008. In 2020, the existing digital collection was migrated to a modern content management system with improved interface and search functionality. The end result is a powerful database allowing researchers quick and convenient access to hundreds of digital images, covering over a century of student life at UNB.
The majority of digitization for the collection was completed by Digital Imaging Centre in the Centre for Digital Scholarship (formerly the Electronic Text Centre) over a three-year period, 2005-2008.
Many of the technical hurdles were caused by the sheer size of the composite photographs. As they were not removed from their frames, the photos were very heavy, often requiring several people to transport them from Archives, which is located on the top (5th) floor, to the Imaging Centre which was then located located in the basement of the Library. One especially large composite, measuring approximately 5 x 7 feet, would not fit into the elevator, and had to be carried down several flights of stairs, manoeuvred through doorways and around book stacks before finally arriving at its destination in the basement. Lighting for the larger photographs was difficult as well. Attempting to evenly illuminate the massive composite photographs was a challenge at best, made even more challenging by the limited confines of the Imaging Centre. A few of the photographs, due to their oversized dimensions, required digitization using multiple shots and digital "stitching" to merge them together.