At the top of an elegant winding staircase on the third floor of Jersey City’s Priscilla Gardner Main Library sits the New Jersey Room. The NJ Room, located at 472 Jersey Avenue, holds a grand collection of materials about New Jersey with an emphasis on Jersey City and Hudson County. This hidden gem is well worth the visit on your next trip to the Jersey City Public Library. Read on to learn more about this local spot and the history it holds.
Yolanda Keahey, a librarian in the NJ Room, loves the place where she works — this spacious wing of the beautiful Beaux-Arts library building is cool + quiet in summer and cozy + sun-dappled in the cold winter months. She loves the materials she works with, her colleagues, and the patrons of the library who come in bursting with questions or shyly curious. Most of all, she loves the opportunity to share the trove of historical artifacts she’s dedicated her life to with visitors of all ages and from all backgrounds.
“This is such a wonderful room,” Yolanda told HG. “This is like a playground to me. Being an African American, a century ago, I wouldn’t have had access to the documents and artifacts in this collection. Sometimes I get emotional because my family wouldn’t have been allowed in the building. Maybe we could have cleaned the building, but we wouldn’t have been able to work with these documents and artifacts.”
Treasures to Uncover
Yolanda began her career in the New Jersey Room as a volunteer and has now been employed by the library for nearly a decade. She is currently working toward a doctoral degree in library science. The library department that she has committed herself to and finds worthy of such effort is a magical place filled with myriad treasures to uncover.
The NJ Room collection holds some 20,000 texts, a massive picture collection, hundreds of fabulous and arcane maps, a multitude of archived magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and odd written remnants of times before. Complete sets of old Jersey City and Hoboken city directories, regional financial reports, and personal letters from important people all await the sleuths who amble into the welcoming space.
Personal Histories to Discover
There is nothing more fulfilling than the origin story of yourself — though uncovering that story can take a bit of dedicated learning. NJ Room librarian Danny Klein is an expert in the field of genealogy and is happy to help. His previous career as a Jersey Journal reporter and editor makes him well suited to the task of hunting down and poring over obfuscated records to connect the dots that tell a personal story and help build a narrative of where and whom you came from.
In 2007, the Hudson County Genealogical Society was formed in order to promote the study of the genealogy and history of Hudson County, NJ. The Society works in partnership with the NJ Room to index the obituaries that have appeared in the local newspapers. Because of this and many other community collaborations, the NJ Room can be used to trace the branches of a family tree across old obits, birth records, newspaper mentions, real estate transactions, and immigration records.
Perhaps a personal history is not what you’re interested in at the moment, but you are curious about the building you’re living in or your neighborhood in general. Fire insurance maps, old censuses, old building plans, and sometimes even photography of the area might await your research into the history of your home.
Your Story is NJ History
For anyone with a high school yearbook that they’d like to donate to the NJ Room, there’s an ongoing NJ Room project that involves collecting yearbooks and recording graduating classes from area high schools. The first installment of this documentation was made up of the graduates of Jersey City High School (now Dickinson HS) from 1876-1900. For those who are not ready to part with their books of pencil-mustachioed faces and “stay cool” messages, the library accepts loans of yearbooks to photocopy as well.
Another documentation project that is in the works aims to create a record of the people lost to Covid-19. These names can be submitted In Memoriam.
The NJ Room is for Everyone
The old maps, green desk lamps, long wooden tables, and general classic library-ness of the NJ Room is open for those who just wish to read and work in an inspiring location along with those who are on a research mission of one sort or another. No appointment is required to access the collection. However, NJ Room department head John Beekman suggests contacting them in advance to get the most out of your research visits.
Hours for the New Jersey Room, along with the rest of the Priscilla Gardner Main Library, are Monday and Wednesday 10:30AM to 6PM, Tuesday and Thursday 12:30PM-8PM, and Friday and Saturday 9:30AM-5PM. The NJ Room staff also provides remote service for history queries made by email to NJRoom@jclibrary.org or via chat.