With her suitcase and sense of adventure in tow, Emily Lapworth trekked from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to Las Vegas this spring to join the UNLV team. Beginning as the visiting special collections librarian at University Libraries, she assisted in the quest to preserve the history of the Jewish community in Southern Nevada. She swiftly was promoted to digital special collections librarian.
Challenging the misconception that librarianship is “just about books and the Dewey Decimal System,” Lapworth leverages a variety of technologies every day to share the stories of those whose lives she documents with UNLV and the world.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I’ve always liked to read and learn. When I got to college, I knew I didn’t want to focus on just one field, so I went into interdisciplinary studies at Brandeis University. When I was nearing graduation, I took a career quiz, and one of the options that stood out to me was librarianship. I thought that sounded like something I would enjoy, so I volunteered a while and then pursued my master’s in library and information science at Simmons College.
Working in a library’s archives is a great way to learn about everything. Every day brings something different, something new. Plus, I get to help other people learn. That’s what I like best.
It was an exciting opportunity to be in a library that’s so committed to its mission. Everybody in my field told me how great Dean (Patty) Iannuzzi is, and it’s true. She’s been really supportive of the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project as well as the library faculty and staff in general. The visiting special collections librarian position I was originally hired for appealed to me as well because it included every aspect of archives, from collecting to accessioning, processing, and digitizing.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment since starting at UNLV?
I’m proud of how far our Libraries team has come with the Jewish heritage project. We’ve digitized more than 800 multipage documents, 1,000 images, and 25 oral histories from 40-plus collections. I’ve personally accessioned 15 new collections, written 108 biographies and 23 organizational histories, created 13 new finding aids, and revised seven older ones so far, so I’ve learned a lot! The group I work with is great, and we’ve got our workflow down to an art.
What is the biggest misconception about your field?
I don’t think people realize how much technology is actually involved in libraries and Special Collections, and honestly, that’s the most exciting part — learning how to use and adapt new technology in this field. When I tell people I’m a librarian, they tend to think it’s just about books and the Dewey Decimal System.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
The same thing: technology. Preserving digital objects is a big challenge because we have to think about how to preserve files like Microsoft Word documents so that they’re still accessible in 10, 50, 100 years. Keep in mind that 100 years is a short time in archives; preferably, we want materials to be accessible indefinitely.
Pastimes and hobbies?
The other night, I started taking circus classes at Trapeze Las Vegas. It was my first time and a completely random thing a friend wanted to try.
I’m not a musician, but I enjoy seeing live music. I’m going to Life Is Beautiful this year. I went to Beale Street Music Festival this spring, which was fun because I’d never been to Memphis.
I also like reading all kinds of stuff, though there are a couple different authors I’m obsessed with, like Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood.
One tip for success?
Be open to new opportunities. That’s how I got here. I looked at opportunities all over the country and didn’t limit myself to one kind of library job. Now here I am, and I love this job.