University Libraries Alumna of the Year
Like most voracious readers who grow up to become accomplished writers and literacy advocates, Marydean Martin’s fascination with literature can be traced to early-life visits to the library. In fact, her earliest memories involve walks with her mother to the library, where young Marydean would check out the books she would read for the week.
By the time she reached high school, Martin’s career path already was written in ink: She would become a librarian — even if it meant taking a peculiar route to get there.
After graduating from Las Vegas High School, where she took library science courses, she enrolled at a new branch of UNR, known as Nevada Southern, that would soon become UNLV. That’s when she, well, returned to Las Vegas High School. Martin explains: “My first classes at Nevada Southern, which is now UNLV, were held in the Las Vegas High School auditorium’s upstairs office and in the First Baptist Church Sunday classrooms.”
As it turns out, Martin’s biggest challenge wasn’t overcoming the atypical setting but rather the college’s neophyte academic system: She wanted to be a library sciences major, but no Nevada institution offered such a program. So Martin took correspondence courses from the University of Utah.
By the time Martin completed those classes, Nevada Southern built its first building on its new campus — the 13,000-square-foot Maude Frazer Building off Maryland Parkway. Fortuitously, the college also had a job opening in its new library.
“At the time, Nevada Southern’s library had three employees — a librarian, an assistant librarian, and one student,” Martin says. “The assistant librarian was leaving. She knew me and told librarian, Jerry Dye, about me. He asked if I wanted the job, and I told him I did — but [only if] I could still take classes. He said that could be arranged if I made up the hours I spent in class. I ended up receiving my tuition — $11 per credit — as part of my salary.”
Martin went on to complete her education at American University in Washington, D.C., then returned to her hometown and began laying the groundwork for a life and career that would have immense community impact, particularly when it comes to literacy and education.
For starters, she was a founding member of the first Friends of the Library board of directors (later named the UNLV Libraries Advisory Board). Martin served multiple terms on the board, and although she resigned as an active member in 2017, she remains involved on an emerita basis.
More broadly, Martin has served the Southern Nevada community as a board member for KNPR Public Radio, Boys Town of Nevada, Boy Scouts of America, and Vegas PBS (among other organizations).
Not surprisingly, literacy was often at the heart of Martin’s involvement with these board positions. For instance, in her role on the Vegas PBS Advisory Board, Martin helped develop the Ready to Learn program, which taught parents and guardians the importance of reading to their children. Thanks in part to Martin’s efforts, thousands of books landed in the hands of young students each year.
When word got around that the library shelves at local Boys and Girls Clubs were nearly empty, Martin came to the rescue. She consulted on a book drive in which employees from many of the city’s top hotels were asked to donate new or gently used books. Those employees came through with thousands of book donations.
Another example of Martin’s commitment to building a better community: Decades ago, she was among a group of concerned citizens who approached the Clark County School District about the growing “latchkey kids” problem and the need for a safe haven for children whose parents work full time. That group’s efforts spawned the Safekey Before and After School program.
It wouldn’t be the last time Martin identified a need and worked diligently with others to address it. Case in point: Shortly before the turn of the century, Martin was among several distinguished community leaders who pressed state officials to expand the state's higher education system.
The group conducted extensive research to support its position that the Silver State needed a four-year, degree-granting option in addition to its two universities and its network of community colleges. That research paid off when Nevada State College opened its doors in 2002.
Martin’s role in taking Nevada State from concept to reality did not go unrecognized. She was named to the initial Nevada State College Foundation, and today sits on the president’s advisory council. She’s also gotten involved philanthropically, offering second-chance scholarships to students who, for whatever reason, had to pause their education but want to resume their studies.
That, of course, is just one example of Martin’s generosity. Over the decades, she has supported (financially and otherwise) not only UNLV Libraries but the work of libraries throughout Southern Nevada. That includes the one on the campus of Nevada State College, which just happens to be named… the Marydean Martin Library. And now, after a lifetime of philanthropy and engagement at UNLV, she's the 2022 University Libraries Alumna of the Year.