VIDEO VAULT | UNLV Special Collections Department celebrates 50 years of Nevada history

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UNLV has been receiving a lot of attention the past few weeks, celebrating six decades of scholarship. On a slightly smaller scale, the university library's "Special Collections Department" is noting its Golden Anniversary

"We've been collecting Southern Nevada's history and the history of gaming for 50 years," says Director Michelle Light. "So you can see anything from photographs to scrapbooks to speeches. Drawings, plans, showcasing the variety of materials we've collected to tell that story."

"Sometimes we chose things for example from early Las Vegas that are sort of classics and that are things that are really popular when people come in to visit," adds Head of Public Services Su Kim Chung. "The original sketches and designs for the Vegas Vic neon sign that were done. They came from the Yesco [Young Electric Sign Company] records which is a really important collection that we have."

Special Collections sometimes partners with other entities working to keep Las Vegas' past alive.

"In the Springs Preserve Boomtown display, they did a lot of research, especially in Specially Collections to re-create the depot and a lot of the of the other buildings," says Chung, referring to a new outdoor re-creation of early Las Vegas. "I think we all try to work together. Sometimes we collaborate on exhibits."

One of the artifacts used to help design the "Boomtown 1905" attraction is a set of films shot by Las Vegas pioneer and banker John S. Park.

"I mean everybody's got home movies sitting around," allows Curator Peter Michel. "But these, because they are the earliest films of Las Vegas--and e was literally just walking down the street and following his friends to the rotary meeting and the beanery next to the railroad depot--captured aspects of Las Vegas that we don't see anywhere else."

Another film being displayed provides a sense of the emergence of the Las Vegas Strip as the "Entertainment Capital of the World" beginning in the late 1950s.

"Showgirls of Las Vegas, we're very familiar with," observes Michel. "But early showgirls at the Stardust Hotel...that was pretty unique."

The films, books, posters, pictures and more are arranged in display cases for an exhibit called "50 Treasures for 50 Year", which was a challenge to assemble.

"I mean, how out of all of our collections do you identify 50 things that they represent the history of Las Vegas and also look cool in an exhibit case or on the wall?" muses Michel.

The task has been a collaborative effort at UNLV Special Collections.

"Working with the community and obtaining donations that way," explains Chung. "All of us currators in the collecting department have collecting areas that we specialize in.

One eye-catching display juxtaposes a group of photographs documenting the construction of Hoover Dam with a large portrait photograph of the O'Callaghan-Tillman Memorial Bridge.

"The engineering of the bridge almost as miraculous as the engineering of the dam itself," marvels Michel. "So it's nice to be able to make those connections. And what I always like to do in Special's not just one thing or group of things. It's how a variety of things--different things from different eras together--put together tell a very interesting story."

While the artifacts are a glimpse into the past, Special Collections is also very much looking to the future.

"I am very interested in making sure that we can collect the 21st century, and that we can provide access to materials in ways that students and faculty and researchers want to get access to it now, which is online," says Light.

The online collection is available at anytime, from anywhere, but the "50 Treasures for 50 Years" collection is for in-person viewing on the first floor of UNLV's Lied Library.

Some visitor will come specifically to see the display cases, while others might stumble upon it while passing by. Either way Light wants to the exhibit to catch their attention.

"I hope they are inspired by what a rich history Las Vegas has. I hope they learn from the past and they actually come and use us."

You don't need to be a student or faculty member to examine "50 treasures for 50 Years". The exhibit is open to the public during regular Lied Library hours.

Related Links:

UNLV Special Collections Department

UNLV Lied Library

Su Kim Chung

Michelle Light

Peter Michel

Boomtown 1905

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