Every day UNLV Libraries’ new director of Special Collections, Michelle Light, comes to work, it’s a bit of a homecoming. A Las Vegas native, Light has not only seen the transformation of the city, she has spent many years living it. Although her studies and career initially took her far from our city, Light could not stay away from her life’s calling to collect and preserve Southern Nevada’s history.
Light began her work in libraries as a graduate student of history at University of Michigan and quickly realized she stood at the forefront of a major academic revolution. “I took a job in Michigan’s digital library right in the early days of the World Wide Web,” Light said. “I realized how digitization of key historical texts and images would fundamentally transform scholarship—that is, how knowledge might be discovered, created and shared. I wanted to be a part of that.”
After making her mark professionally at Yale University, Northeastern University, and the University of Washington, she landed at the University of California at Irvine, where she served as head of special collections, archives, and digital scholarship. In March of 2013, it was finally time for Light to come home. “Joining UNLV Libraries gave me the wonderful opportunity to return to my roots and play a major role in preserving the history of my hometown as well as shaping its historical record,” she said.
With such commitment to what she does, it is no surprise that Light earned two awards this year: She received the highest honor the Society of American Archivists bestows upon its members when she became one of the youngest fellows in the organization’s history, and she received the University of Michigan School of Information’s 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award this fall. Both peer-nominated awards recognize Light’s decorated 15-year career as well as the transformation Light has inspired at each repository she’s worked for.
Accomplishing even more here at UNLV Libraries is No. 1 on Light’s list of priorities, and she is grateful to work with both new and familiar faces in the community again. “I love helping people preserve their legacies for future generations to appreciate,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling to see people make a personal connection to an item we preserved from the past. They realize how powerful it is to connect the past with the present and future.”