School yearbooks still draw students into signing circles, a tradition that even the age of cyberspace communications and online social networking can't delete.
After getting their yearbooks last week, students at Walker County's LaFayette High School convened for a "signing day" in the bleachers of the Ramblers' football stadium, where they reviewed the freshly printed history of the year.
The value of the latest addition to his yearbook collection is simple, senior Tyler Chambers said.
"Memories. Good ones."
"MySpace and Facebook, you can't go back and look at it years from now," said Mr. Chambers, an 18-year-old who has yearbooks for each of his school years. "With a yearbook, you can go back and get it off the bookshelf, open it up and say, 'Hey, I remember that person,' and 'Oh, hey, that was my best friend, right there.'
"There's more memories in this thing than I can ever make on Facebook," he said, gripping his 2010 edition of "The Rambler."
Freshmen Kaleb Burrage and Dakota Tucker, both 15, sat with their yearbooks in a crowd of 200 to 300 classmates who were marking the moment in each other's still tangy-scented annuals with pens and felt-tipped markers.
Kaleb said signing day is "more social" than cyber-networking. Both boys said they had yearbooks for almost every year of elementary and middle school. As they age, those old yearbooks "kind of remind me of what things were like when we were younger," Kaleb said.
"They kind of make me feel old," Dakota said.
"Digital files; they're nebulous. There's an impermanence there," LaFayette High teacher Dana Cole said Wednesday as she prepared boxes of yearbooks for distribution. "Whereas having something in your hand, the yearbook, is much more a keepsake."
A yearbook's importance to its owner grows with time, she said.
"Most of them will probably remember, at least right now, most of what's in the yearbook," she said. "Ten years from now? Probably not."
Wayne Ingle, English teacher at Catoosa County's Heritage High School, was working with his yearbook staff on Thursday as they feverishly put together photo pages and sections for their 2010 edition of "The Legacy," set for distribution next fall.
Most yearbooks are produced either in the winter or spring for distribution in spring or fall, respectively. Sometimes websites and CDs are included as part of the package with the hardbound edition, officials said.
Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Joshua Hill, 17, Dalton Hooper, 16, and Ben Mitchell, 17, from left, leaf through their new LaFayette High School yearbooks on Wednesday afternoon. Students at LaFayette High School in LaFayette, Ga., spent part of the afternoon signing one another's books in the stands of the football stadium.
Although the digital age appears to have little impact on the personal value placed on school yearbooks, it has had an enormous impact on how they are produced, Mr. Ingle said.
"Back when I started doing it, we had to actually graph it out on paper, cut pictures, cut out physical captions, body copy, and actually paste it into almost architectural drawings," Mr. Ingle said.
Now, all production can be done online.
"They have servers that hold all our photos," he said. "The kids can work from home, and I can give the kind of access they need, or not, depending on their assignments."
Online production cut costs such as mailing proofs and corresponding with the publisher. And students learn graphic arts and writing skills they can use in school and as adults, he said.
Heritage High School yearbook staff members Dustin Ridley and Garrett Peace, both seniors, said coordination with the publisher is easier and faster online.
"You can cut out pictures a lot easier. You can get a lot more creative with it," Mr. Ridley said.
But both said yearbooks never will become an online-only product.
"I do think eventually there will be yearbooks accessed online, but I think the hard copy will always be needed," Mr. Ridley said.
As years progress, so will his appreciation and perception of how fashions and fads changed, Mr. Ridley said.
"It'll be, 'Hey kids, this is how goofy I used to look,'" he said.
An entirely digital yearbook is like "downloading music rather than buying music," Mr. Peace said. "It is more fleeting."
"With a yearbook, it's more tangible. You can hold it. It's something of value, much the way music is with vinyl or CDs," he said.
Heritage senior Sara Spurling said her yearbooks, from kindergarten to senior year, "help me remember the different times and styles and all the memories that I don't want to forget. They're a part of my life."
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...