Former Somerville Librarian Helps Rutgers Digitize Local History

Jim Sommerville, who retired in 2017 after 43 years of library service, worked to preserve photographs of local history for submission to the New Jersey Digital Highway. Credits: Courtesy SCLSNJ
Jim Sommerville, left, looks on as former Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher reads a proclamation at a Borough Council meeting last year commemorating Sommerville's 43-year library career. Credits: Rod Hirsch


SOMERVILLE, NJ - Before retiring last year after 43 years working as a historian and researcher at the Somerville Library, Jim Sommerville had been working for many years with Rutgers University to preserve photographs of local history for submission to the New Jersey Digital Highway.

“We are pleased to announce that SCLSNJ's very first local history collection of digitized photos has been ingested into the New Jersey Digital Highway. The collection, titled ‘Somerville and its Environs: Images from Central Jersey History 1885-1925’ was curated by my former colleague Jim Sommerville. This was an initial test of loading 50 items into the New Jersey Digital Highway, and we will continue to add more from the vast collection that Jim digitized during his time with SCLSNJ,” said Technical Services Manager Rebecca Sandoval Sloat.

The content depicts local folkways, gives a photographic record of the backstory of the pre-modern and modern Somerville, Bridgewater, and South Somerville/Hillsborough from the 1880's through the early 20th century, with other aspects of Somerville depicted up to the recent past. The majority of the upload are images from the time period spanning 1890-1920.  

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Some examples of the content uploaded already/being prepared for upload are the full text of almanacs published by the Somerville Board of Trade between 1883 and 1900; postcards and images of the Duke Estate in Hillsborough from ~1895-1915; images and documents depicting businesses in Somerville from the 1880's through mid-Twentieth Century; images and significant documentation for the State and National Historic Register properties in Somerville, including the Wallace House, the Robert mansion, and the J. Harper Smith mansion; the full text of three other promotional documents from the Somerville Board of Trade (predecessor of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce/Somerset County Business Partnership): “Somerville and Its Environments,” “Somerville As It Really Is,” and “The Towns of Somerville and Raritan;” Famous Somervillians; the Lord Memorial Fountain; and the circus.  

“Additionally, due to the System’s recently awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Common Heritage grant, we will be able to begin collecting memories from all community members across the County,” Sloat added.

The Somerville Library is one of several facilities that operates under the auspices of the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey.

New Jersey Digital Highway is an immersive, user-centered information portal that aims to support the New Jersey learner through a collaboration among cultural heritage institutions that supports preservation of the past, new access strategies for the future, and active engagement with resources at the local and the global level for shared access.

The New Jersey Digital Highway was developed by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The principal grant partner organizations who are collaborating to develop the New Jersey Digital Highway are: Rutgers University Libraries, New Jersey State Library, New Jersey Division of Archives & Records Management, The New Jersey Historical Society and the American Labor Museum/Botto House National Landmark.

“In terms of the impact upon this and neighboring communities, the effects would be cultural, educational, historical, social, and recreational in nature,” said Somerville.

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