Digital Postcards at Brooklyn College

by Daniel Lado, GSLIS student, Queens College, CUNY

Postcard from the Everett Hughes Collection, Brooklyn College Archives.

Working with the Brooklyn College Archives was a really helpful experience in learning a remote workstyle for archiving. I had a great time working with quite a number of files of archived material. My primary goal was to upload to the Archives’ digital repository PDFs of postcards from the Everett Hughes Postcard Collection, create metadata records for each one, and transcribe any messages on the cards. There are almost 1000 postcards in the entire postcard collection, and each one is tied to its own category.

These Brooklyn postcards date as far back as the very late 1800s. They are from various parts of Brooklyn, such as Flatbush and Coney Island. Each of these areas is a subcollection of the Everett Hughes Postcard Collection. All of the files containing the postcards were very neatly organized by name. They were also categorized beforehand; each set of files corresponded with an area of Brooklyn, and this made focusing on one sub collection far easier than having to go back and forth with several sub-collections.

The hardest part of the internship is trying to understand the handwriting of people from over a hundred years ago. Back then, it was normal to write everything in script, as opposed to today, where people write in print. This is especially a problem when some of the words are faded out or if something is on top of the words, like a stamp. Trying to understand older handwriting in script was hard for the first few weeks, but I was able to get the hang of it after repeated practice. Handwriting that was not only illegible to read but also in a language I was unfamiliar with was among the most difficult. One of the postcards was written in French, but fortunately I was able to write down most of the words from the postcard. It usually just takes a bit of patience and practice to get used to the reading script.

Handwriting on the back of a postcard, Everett Hughes Collection, Brooklyn College Archives.

When trying to read script handwriting from a hundred years ago, you’d be surprised at how some normal words are a bit tricky to interpret the first time. Sometimes it would take more than three rereads of the words to understand what the writer was trying to say. There are also small instances of stamps or ink residue that covered a half of a word, and I had to use my own intuition to figure out what the meaning of the sentence was supposed to be. I personally found it a challenge at times, and I think it is a great way to get yourself accustomed to the handwriting from many years ago. It certainly helped me learn to interpret this style of writing for when I might have to deal with archives that are even older than these postcards.

There were many postcards that were easy to transcribe and upload. Most of the easy-to-transcribe postcards had a few printed words on the back and a title on the front, and these took a few minutes to finish. So, it was random whenever the next postcard I had to work on was going to take a few minutes or longer than that to complete. Thankfully, the work hours are remote, so it was easier to set work hours aside if there wasn’t enough time in the day. I also want to add that every time before uploading a new entry, it is important to check the metadata to make sure there aren’t any errors. But even after looking for mistakes, there were still instances of errors that slipped by, and I had to re-edit the entry. Fortunately, editing the information on Illumira was simple and straightforward. It would take a minute at the most to correct something and have the platform save the changes. I always make sure to write down any metadata that was related to the postcard onto a spreadsheet. Recording this information on a spreadsheet was extremely useful, because if I had to look for a specific piece of metadata, it would only take a few seconds. Setting up the look and format for the spreadsheet was the longest part, but after that, writing the work down became far easier. I highly advise copying all metadata to spreadsheets for reference for any future interns.

The online platform that houses a lot of the information about the archives is called “Illumira.” The website made it easy to sign in, submit metadata, and upload new records. Going back and reediting past submissions was also quick and easy to do. Any small piece of information could be re-edited if there was something I needed to correct. Another helpful thing about the website is that it always remembers that you are signed in. Even if the computer fell asleep or if you left to deal with something, the platform did not sign you out. I found this really helpful when working for a long period of time on the computer. I wish I could say that using Illumira was a pleasant experience, but that was not the case at the end of my internship.

Postcard of the Litchfield Mansion in Prospect Park, Everett Hughes Collection, Brooklyn College Archives.

A few months into my internship, Illumira experienced some technical difficulties that prevented me from uploading any new entries to the platform, but I was able to continue contributing to the project by entering the metadata for each card that could not be uploaded into an Excel spreadsheet so that someone else can upload the files later. Applying for an internship was a hassle-free experience, and it wasn’t that hard to start working right away. If you need an internship to help with a degree or to understand the basics of online archiving, I would highly recommend working with the Brooklyn College Archives. In my opinion, I highly recommend working with the Brooklyn College Archives if you want to learn the basics of archiving through online platforms. Whether through an online internship or working in person, it is a really good and fun experience that will get you acquainted with the habits of preserving information.


If you want to know more about the Brooklyn College Archives, you can email for more information.




Ethel Lagarenne ’32 – The Oldest Living BC Alum


1932 photo of Ethel Lagarenne

1932 Yearbook photo of Ethel Lagarenne

Note:  Ethel Lagarenne passed away on September 10, 2019 at age 107. This post was written in celebration of her 106th birthday in 2018.

On May 1, 2018 our oldest living alum, Ethel Lagarenne Hagquist, will turn 106 years old. Born in 1912, she lived on East 15th Street in Brooklyn.  Ethel graduated cum Laude with the first graduating class of Brooklyn College 1932. Her father, John Lagarenne, was a NYC police officer who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief Inspector. In 1939, he was assigned to escort King George of England on his visit to the 1939 Worlds Fair at Flushing Meadows, Queens, NY.


Very active in student life, Ethel was a member of Alpha Delta Pi, President of the YWCA club, and on the Senior Prom Committee.

YWCA club, 1932.

Photo of the Y.W.C.A club from the 1932 Yearbook. Ethel is seated in the front row, center.

Brooklyn College was founded in 1930 when the popular Brooklyn branches of City College (for men) and Hunter College (for women) were combined to form the third college in what would eventually be known as the City University of New York.   Ethel had been taking classes at the Brooklyn Branch of Hunter and in 1930 eagerly became a part of her borough’s co-ed public college.   On May 15, 1931, in celebration of the first birthday of Brooklyn College, students performed Sophocles’ Antigone, which Ethel helped produce.

Upon graduation, Ethel worked in Macy’s earning $14 dollars a week.  She later worked for an investment firm.

Ethel lived in Fresh Meadows Queens until the age of 101 and is now residing at Flushing House Assisted Living. She remains active in all that they have to offer.

Ethel Lagarenne

Ethel in her apartment at Flushing House Assisted Living, holding two pillows that she quilted. Ethel belonged to a quilting circle for many years before moving to Flushing House.



Have English Courses Changed? A Brooklyn Bard’s 20th Century English Courses

by Gabrielle Duggan, archival intern Fall 2017

Do you ever get stuck while writing an assignment for your English class and wonder if they were always this challenging? By taking a look at the syllabi and exams that alumnus William Alfred created when he was an English professor at Harvard University, we can answer that question!

First we have a syllabus from an introductory level English class that focused on the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer. Professor Alfred explains that many words Chaucer uses are not part of common English vernacular any longer, so the students will have to familiarize themselves with their definitions and pronunciations. Have you taken any English classes that dealt with Middle-English vocabulary?

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The Brooklyn College Library: The Heart of the Academy


The Brooklyn College Library opened in the fall of 1937 on the college’s newly constructed Midwood Campus. Situated in the center of the east quadrangle, the library and its magnificent clock tower became the signature building of architect Randolph Evans’ Georgian style campus and a landmark for the surrounding community.

The following video, composed of photographs from our Archives, documents the construction of the library from December 1935 to September 1937.

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The Library and Fiorello LaGuardia

New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia was instrumental in securing the construction funds from the Work Progress Administration. He took part in the ceremonial groundbreaking of the campus in 1935. In his heartfelt remarks given at the 1939 inauguration of Harry Gideonse as the college’s second president, he summed up his philosophy on public higher education: “At one time a college education was a sort of privilege. We are living in a time in which advanced education is the responsibility of a government, and every boy and girl who can absorb it ought to be entitled to it.” 1

The library was named LaGuardia Hall in his honor on October 20, 1947 in recognition of his personal connection and many contributions to the college.

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The 1959 Extension

By the 1950s, the Library’s collection had reached the building’s capacity.  Designed to hold a maximum of 90,000 volumes, the shelves were packed with more than 200,000 books. An extension was first proposed in 1945, but construction did not begin until 1957.

When it opened in the fall of 1959, the modern glass and metal framed extension was hailed by Chief Librarian H.G. Bousefield as a  “clearinghouse rather than a storehouse for more effective education of students, including self-education.” 2  For the first time students and faculty could browse the book collection which was previously stored in closed stacks.The extension’s open floor plan allowed for more study space and lounge areas.   In a publicity pamphlet from the 1960s, the library with its new extension was referred to as “the happiest building on the campus.” 3   It was also one of the busiest.

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Gideonse Library Extension Dedication May 25, 1983

On May 25, 1983, Brooklyn College President Robert L. Hess dedicated the extension to Harry D. Gideonse, the longest serving president from 1939-1966. A scholar and prolific writer, Gideonse was the guiding force behind the college’s growth and academic success.

BC Presidents past and present at the dedication ceremony for the Harry D. Gideonse Library. L to R: Robert Hess, Harry Gideonse, George Peck, John Kneller, and Francis Kilcoyne.

BC Presidents past and present at the dedication ceremony for the Harry D. Gideonse Library. Left to Right: Robert Hess, Harry Gideonse, George Peck, John Kneller, and Francis Kilcoyne.

At the ceremony, President Gideonse remarked: “My priorities – freedom and responsibility, the role of education in a democracy, the liberal arts, and international relations and economics – always stood informed by the record of those who had thought before and recorded those thoughts in books.” 4

Expansion and Renovation: Three Buildings Become One

By the 1990s, the library’s shelves were once again filled to capacity.  Its space was inadequate for the growing student population. It’s technology was antiquated, and the building was continually plagued by floods and mold. Plans were drawn up and money secured to completely renovate the existing library and add another new wing.

This total overhaul was completed in 2002.  The Brooklyn College Library now contains more than 1.4 million books on 21.5 miles of shelving and 6.5 acres of floor space.  It has seating for more than 2,300 users, multiple classrooms and group study rooms, hundreds of public computers and the state-of-the-art Woody Tanger Auditorium. The college’s IT department is also housed within the library, making the building the campus’s technological hub.

In describing the Brooklyn College Library, Barbra Buckner Higginbotham, the Chief Librarian from 1985-2007, stated: “The Library transcends the experience of each individual classroom, to become that place where all members of the academy intersect and interact. It is the heart of the academy.” 5

The expanded and renovated Library opened in 2002. Pictured here: LaGuardia Hall and the new wing.

The expanded and renovated Library opened in 2002. Pictured here: LaGuardia Hall and the new wing.


1 Brooklyn College. The Inauguration of Harry D. Gideonse as the Second President.  Records of the Office of the President, Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections.

2 Bousefield, H. G.  Annual Report of the Librarian 1959-1960. Records of the Brooklyn College Library, Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections.

3 “The Happiest Place on Campus.”  Records of the Brooklyn College Library, Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections.

4 Gideonse, Harry D. “Remarks at the Dedication of the Gideonse Library. May 23, 1983.”  Records of the Brooklyn College Library, Brooklyn College Archives and Special Collections.

5 From Vision to Legacy: A Brief History of the Brooklyn College Library. Records of the Brooklyn  College Library, Brooklyn  College Archives and Special Collections.

Brooklyn College Presidents


Since its founding in 1930, there have been 9 Brooklyn College Presidents.  Below is a list of all the BC Presidents, which also includes Acting Presidents:

1932-1938                   WILLIAM A. BOYLAN                     PRESIDENT

1938-1939                   MARIO E. COSENZA                     ACTING PRESIDENT

1939-1966                   HARRY D. GIDEONSE                  PRESIDENT

1966-1967                   FRANCIS P. KILCOYNE                PRESIDENT

1968-1969                   HAROLD C. SYRETT                     PRESIDENT

1969                            GEORGE A. PECK                         ACTING PRESIDENT

1970-1979                   JOHN W. KNELLER                        PRESIDENT

1979-1991                   ROBERT L. HESS                           PRESIDENT

1992                            JAMES N. LOUGHRAN                  ACTING PRESIDENT

1992-2000                   VERNON LATTIN                            PRESIDENT

2000-2009                   CHRISTOPH KIMMICH                  PRESIDENT

2009-2016                   KAREN L. GOULD                          PRESIDENT

2016-                           MICHELLE ANDERSON                 PRESIDENT

A Look at William A. Boylan, The First BC President

William Boylan, the first President of Brooklyn College

William Boylan, the first President of Brooklyn College.


“His manner seemed austere, and his blue eyes appeared stern behind his rimless pince nez glasses until one caught their Irish twinkle. He was a bachelor, proper and neat as a pin in dress and formal of speech; but he spent many a pleasant evening at cards with Borough President Raymond Ingersoll and other cronies.” 1





No one is more responsible for our beautiful Midwood Campus than our first President William Aloysius Boylan (1869-1940).  An educator, Boylan moved up the ranks in the New York City Public School system from teacher to district superintendent. He also wrote textbooks on reading, writing, and mathematics, many of which can be found in the Brooklyn College Library.

Boylan ably led BC through those hectic early years in Downtown Brooklyn before the College had its own campus, and he was committed to finding BC a home of its own. Although many faculty members initially grumbled at the Board of Higher Education’s choice of a municipal administrator as the President of Brooklyn College, Boylan’s many city connections and his years of experience with NYC school construction benefited this nascent institution. The Midwood Campus opened in October 1937. Almost one year later in September 1938, Boylan resigned due to ill health. He died in 1940.

“The Union Between Democracy and Education”: Boylan at the Cornerstone Laying Ceremony in 1936.

The Ceremony for the laying of the Midwood Campus Cornerstone took place on October 28, 1936.  Many dignitaries spoke and the New York City Sanitation Department Band played celebratory music while the crowd awaited the arrival of President Roosevelt. FDR would lay the cornerstone for the gymnasium building, later known as Roosevelt Hall. Before FDR’s motorcade turned down Bedford Avenue, Boylan addressed the crowd:

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This reception, celebrating the inauguration of Boylan, followed the first Commencement Exercises at Brooklyn College in 1932.

This reception, celebrating the inauguration of Boylan, followed the first Commencement Exercises at Brooklyn College in 1932.

“We strive to develop a college with a keen sense of the needs of the present and the aims of the future. From its early experiences in the midst of the busy activity of downtown Brooklyn, the new college will carry away to its permanent home a living consciousness of contemporary demands and problems, determination to share in that type of higher education which is eager to be an integral part of the community in which it functions. Yesterday’s traditions shall not bind us to today’s questionings and to the world’s anxious hope for a better tomorrow. Above all, we shall strive to inculcate the lesson that in order to attain that richer, more inspiring tomorrow, the community must enlist its best intelligence, its highest ideals, its most practical and realistic talents.”  — From William A. Boylan’s Inaugural Address at the first Commencement Exercises, June 11, 1932.



      1 Thomas Evans Coulton, A City College In Action (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955) 64-65.