Unveiling, distributing yearbooks requires careful planning

Written by Jan Hensel

Has the baby been delivered yet?

You know. The baby. The yearbook.

Few new arrivals are awaited with more anticipation than the delivery of the new yearbook.

However, one big difference is that when a newborn cries, it is good news. When an adviser cries, it can be a bad sign. But because there has never been a perfect yearbook, how you approach the unveiling of your yearbook will have a large impact on whether or not it is a positive experience for the staff.

When you first look at the yearbook, resist the urge to make any negative comments at all, even if you notice right off that you are no longer “The Bombers,” but “The Bomers,” as one unfortunate school discovered once not too long ago. No yearbook is perfect because no staff is perfect. And no adviser is perfect, either. That is why I take many opportunities to remind my faculty that I am publishing “homework,” which is something few teachers and fewer students would be willing to do.

I have survived distribution from the depths of despair – like once when we had the wrong year on the spine (my fault) – and the time the homecoming queen’s name was incorrect (also my fault). In those situations, I felt the entire world knew about the mistake I had made! It is easy to fall for the inner belief that such disasters are too terrible to bear. But since then I have learned to affix stickers at a surprisingly efficient rate and learned to forgive myself and my students for being … well, human.

Here is a valuable tip. When the books come, do not immediately crack open a box. Insist on a “ceremony” to give you a chance to view the yearbook in private. After I ditch any staff members who might be around for the delivery, I take a peek. It is a tradition at Liberty that the editor-in-chief gets the first look, so later, the editor and I arrange to have a private viewing.

However, before that private viewing, I always give my editor a little pep talk. After all, the editor has never been in this situation before. No doubt he or she will notice the mistakes of others. You must teach the editor that it is not appropriate to go smack someone over the head with the book because he forgot to change the folio. I have wallowed in the heartbreak of imperfection to no avail. Helping your editor (and later your staff) to accept the things they cannot change and concentrate on the positive aspects of every yearbook is an extremely important skill, not just in yearbooks, but also in life. Do not waste this opportunity to infuse a little tact and maturity into the experience.

So, be especially supportive of your staff when the yearbooks are put under the microscope. Take every opportunity to point out the good parts. Plan your remarks ahead of time, if necessary.

Hopefully you will be able to say more than, “Wow, look at that photo! It is not nearly as out of focus as the others!” or “Hallelujah, every page is numbered!” Celebrate all you can, speaking to individual staff members about their successes.

The next problem, of course, is distribution. You will need to formulate a plan for systematically handling out books to students and staff. Your school may have been following a method devised years ago, so do not be afraid to reconsider the procedure to evaluate its efficiency.

Here are some suggestions

  • Keep yearbooks locked up until distribution day.
  • Do not distribute any yearbook early, no matter who asks or how plaintively they plead. No yearbook leaves the yearbook room before its time. None. Zip. Nada. (Oh, except mine…)
  • Separate engraved books carefully and check the spelling at the same time. Refund money ahead of time for any errors. The publisher will give you credit if the error was theirs. (Unfortunately for us, it seems to always be our mistake.)
  • Plan several distribution areas separately: engraved names in one area/room; paid As and Bs in another; paid Cs and Ds in another, etc. etc.; Distribute yearbooks to those who owe elsewhere (hand out slowly and give a receipt); Hold additional sales elsewhere, too. We always have about 14 distribution tables set up in the gym, though I know some schools who successfully use blockaded classroom doorways.
  • At each distribution site have a printed list of who gets yearbooks there. Anyone not on the list, even with a receipt, is sent to the trouble table.
  • Assign yearbook staff members to each station. A speedy distribution (it takes us less than one hour to hand out 1,100 books) means they get to autograph books sooner, but insist they are careful. I make them sign the list of books they distribute and hold them accountable for it.
  • Guard boxes of yearbooks carefully. We always block off access to books by cordoning off the back and sides to distribution areas. We learned this the hard way when one year someone got all the engraved and pre-signed staff books that were supposedly “safe” inside a black trash bag behind the tables.
  • Have a station for problems and handle them yourself. Have your receipt box there and printed lists from the database of sales.
  • Do not put a student in charge of any station where money is collected.

Well, that is enough to try to remember for your first yearbook distribution. By the end of the day, you will be pleasantly tired from this culminating event. Most years, I leave school exhausted but “pumped” from the delight of watching hundreds of students pouring over our precious pages and seeing the pride beaming from the faces of yearbook staffers.

The good years always have outnumbered the bad, too. I hardly ever think about my months of counseling with Dr. Leon after the year the cheerleaders were left out of the yearbook by accident. Well, maybe sometimes.

Jan Hensel

Jan Hensel is the former adviser at Liberty High School in Liberty, Mo., where she taught yearbook, newspaper and photography.