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UNLV Hosts “Night at the Libraries” Event for National History Day

“It took one phone call,” Brian stated, “and Anne had her team on board.”

When Clark County School District (CCSD) program facilitator, Brian Boothe, contacted Anne Zald, Head of Educational Initiatives at the UNLV Libraries, to set up “Night at the Libraries,” an event that would complement a series of others that took K-12 students through community museums, Anne Zald eagerly set a plan in motion that would introduce university library research to area students and their families.

At these events, referred to as “Nights at the Museum,” students, parents, and teachers consulted local experts for help with National History Day project research. Events like this one represent UNLV Libraries’ effort to situate itself accessibly in the heart of our community and to promote information literacy through outreach.

Boothe served as the 2012-2013 state program facilitator for National History Day (NHD), a contest where junior high and high school students compete on both the state and national levels to create well-researched historical presentations in the form of papers, physical exhibits, websites, performances, or documentaries. This year’s theme is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events.” Judges consider historical quality, clarity of presentation, relationship to themes, and rule compliance when evaluating student work.

Naturally, CCSD and the NHD program work to make it possible for students to reach high standards and become strong competitors in the culminating national competition, held annually in Washington, D.C. Exposure to real-world historical work and resources in the greater community allows students to better understand both the research process and craft of communicating history to a specified audience. “When compared to other History Day programs, we lacked an essential component: community involvement,” Boothe explained, “so we made an effort to bring in other groups—museums, teachers, and parents—to help students build quality projects.”

Zald planned a four-hour event to orient students and their families to UNLV Libraries and cultivate the information literacy skills they would need to compete. She developed a series of activities intended to help students frame their topics in light of the contest theme. Students in her session were introduced to the concept of creating research questions and practiced the skill by refining their own areas of interest into researchable presentation topics. In Special Collections, Su Kim Chung and Peter Michel whet the students’ appetites for primary sources, showing them examples of manuscripts, photos and artifacts that tell stories about our community. And in one computer classroom, Humanities Librarian Priscilla Finley guided students in an exploration of the UNLV Libraries’ rich collections of digitized historical newspapers, letters, and diaries. The January 23 event was attended by 38 students, 10 parents, 6 teachers, and 5 interns, making it the most popular “Night at the Museum” event.

Library resources allow students to go a little deeper into their chosen subject, particularly with primary sources, which are the core of historical research. “If there is a student who is able to use the original letters of a Nevada miner from the 19th century, or an original costume design from a casino floor show, and in that way become more excited about their research and maybe even about continuing their education,” Zald explained, “That is what it is all about for me.”

Boothe concurs that access to university resources adds substantially to the quality of the NHD program and students’ information literacy skills. “As the focus of K-12 instruction shifts to preparing students for career or college, we need to demonstrate the amazing resources we have at our fingertips at UNLV.” He elaborated, “The expertise, the knowledge, and resources that post-secondary institutions have, need to be demonstrated regularly... In times of budget cuts it is critical that UNLV show how they can be an agent of good for K-12 students.” He added, “Anne Zald was amazing to work with.” Using insights into K-12 curricula standards, she locked in on the goals of the event, facilitated its design, and eagerly integrated ideas presented by NHD staff. “Anne and her team went above the call of duty to plan interesting activities for teachers and students. The night was structured in such a way that allowed our NHD students to really grasp research ideas.”

“I think the night was amazing - teachers, parents and students agreed,” concluded Boothe.  This event undoubtedly represents a building block, laying the foundation for a strong community partnership. “It has set the gold standard for what we hope to accomplish in the future for NHD.”

The success of the collaboration certainly showed in the quality of the projects submitted in the state competition held on April 6, 2013. To acknowledge these excellent projects, UNLV Libraries created the UNLV Research Award scholarship. With the state contest over, Zald and others have begun selecting recipients for this award. The major criteria for selection is exemplary and original use of a primary resource unique to UNLV Libraries, housed in either the Special or Digital Collections, which were accessed through participation in the Night at the Libraries event.

This event has set the bar higher for UNLV Libraries to continue growing its commitment to promoting information literacy by establishing early bonds with the Valley’s youngest researchers.

Night at the Libraries Film

For more information:

NHD Nevada Website: