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From Nevada History To The Nation's History


Library of Congress

Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand. Photograph from the main eastern theater of the war, Battle of Antietam, September-October 1862.

One of Las Vegas’s own has joined the ranks of the prestigious Library of Congress.

Michelle Light was head of special collections and archives at UNLV for several years. She began her job at the nation’s library two months ago.

She’s director of special collections, overseeing six divisions and about 250 people.

“I get to see the most amazing materials and work with some of the smartest curators and librarians. It is an incredible place to work,” Light told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Light is a Las Vegas native, but when she heard about the position at the Library of Congress she decided to apply because she believed it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. 

“I thought I could apply all of my experience that I gained in Las Vegas to the benefit of the nation,” she said.

The Library of Congress is home to 125 million items. It includes everything from maps, photographs, audio recordings, presidential letters and documents of all kinds.

Light said they look for unique items that reflect the American experience and collect items from people that have made a significant impact on American life and culture.

For example, the library's newest exhibit will be a collection from civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks

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Because of the vast collection of items, Light has been able to see up close some of the most significant items from American history, like a draft of the Declaration of Independence. 

But it some of the more personal items that she has enjoyed seeing.

“One of the things that spoke to me most recently because I love the musical ‘Hamilton’ was the last letter that Alexander Hamilton wrote to his wife Eliza before he was killed in a duel. Seeing that actual letter up close and in person that was an amazing experience,” she said.

Another item that brought her to tears was a bail petition from women accused of being witches in 1692

Light said those kinds of documents act as a bridge between generations.

“There’s something almost magical how a letter, first-hand letter like that connects you with a person of the past," she said, "That’s what is so special about my job is that I build bridges between past and present and the future, create ways that people 300 years ago can communicate and tell their personal thoughts and dreams to people 100 years into the future.”

One of Light's projects at the Library of Congress will be to make it easier for everyone to access those letters, pictures, and documents from the past. She will be working on putting even more of the Library of Congress' archive and special collections online.

Michelle Light, Director of Special Collections/Library of Congress


Michelle Light, Director of Special Collections, The Library of Congress

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