Q+A: Kelvin Watson:

Vegas-Clark County Library District serves a wide swath of the community

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Steve Marcus

Kelvin Watson, executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, poses under banners at the Windmill Library Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Las Vegas-Clark County Library District’s new marketing campaign utilizes updated signage to advertise the Library resources.

Mon, Jul 8, 2024 (2 a.m.)

Kelvin Watson, the executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, is looking forward to 2025.

That’s when the system will be celebrating its 60th anniversary — and it will do so with a new library to serve the Historic Westside.

Vegas Inc had a conservation with Watson about what’s on the horizon. Here are the answers he shared, via email.

Tell us about the new West Las Vegas Library. What was the impetus for building it, and what kinds of obstacles did you overcome in the lead up to the recent groundbreaking?

The new West Las Vegas Library will open in the fall of 2025 on Martin Luther King Drive, just around the corner from our current location on West Lake Mead. It will double the size of the current location to serve the growing population in the Historic Westside and fulfill the need for arts, culture, technology, and educational resources. It’s going to include more updated technology and training in STEM, 3-D printing and virtual reality. There will also be spaces for workforce development, business incubators and many more meeting rooms.

What other news or updates do you have to share with the community with regards to the Library District? 

I do have some exciting news to share: 2025 represents our 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, and we are planning some fun activities for the milestone. The Library District is continuing to create new partnerships and expand the programs and services outside of our physical locations. My philosophy has always been that libraries exist to serve all, but especially the underserved and those who may not have experienced how a library can change their lives. It is critically important to bring technology to the broadest audience, and the library has the infrastructure to achieve this. We recently won the American Library Association’s Library of the Future Award for the third year in a row, which I’m proud to say has never been done before.

What prompted you to pursue a leadership role in the Library District? Why is it so important to you personally?

I could see the opportunity to grow the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District to serve a wider swath of the population. This is such an exciting, ever-growing, ever-changing city and the need to develop our future workforce is critical to continue driving that engine of economic growth. I also saw several untapped areas: to assist the Clark County School District in its mission by helping to support early childhood learning with the reading by third grade initiative; to give our teens dedicated, interactive, safe spaces to hang out after school; and for all ages, to elevate our programs and services with partnerships.

What partnerships with the business community have you cultivated in your time as executive director?

One of my first orders of business when I arrived here three years ago was to connect to the business community, the chambers of commerce, the hospitality industry, and the local media, to help us tell our stories of opportunity. We have partnerships with Cox Communications to promote free Wi-Fi access, Sunrise Hospital to introduce new mothers to our services, the Boulevard Mall to target the growing Spanish language and bilingual population, Hope for Prisoners to assist the formerly incarcerated with re-entry into the economy, as well as the Downtown Grand Hotel, the Springs Preserve, the Neon Museum, UNLV and more. 

What programs within the Library District are you excited about?

We know that not all kids love to read, so our Summer Challenge programs let them do activities and reading to win book prizes, and then qualify for more prizes and swag from the Vegas Golden Knights, NBA Summer League, the Library District, Panda Express, Pinkbox Doughnuts and others.

What do you wish the community knew about the Library District, and are there any misconceptions about it that you wish to clear up?

My goal is to educate the public that libraries are stronger than ever before and that through our doors and on our website, thelibrarydistrict.org, they can truly change their lives. They will find free educational resources, new hobbies, new business connections, the chance to meet new friends ... the possibilities are endless. 

We launched a public education campaign called Free To Be, with seven words which represent the many unique experiences that our libraries offer: Free To Be Curious, Free To Be Connected, Free To Be Captivated, Free To Be Fearless, Free To Be Inspired, Free To Be a Trailblazer, and of course, Free To Be Yourself. We want people to see that libraries are no longer quiet places with dusty bookshelves. We love our books, but now you can check out toys, games, blood pressure monitors and other physical items.

What’s your favorite book or your favorite author of all time, and why?

My favorite book is A Raisin in the Sun, which is actually a play by Lorraine Hansberry. I admire it for so many reasons. It talks about family dynamics, specifically an African American family that is struggling to move forward in life. Even though there are some bumps in the road or challenges and obstacles to overcome, they ultimately do, and it strengthens the family bond. This has always been inspirational to me, both as a young student striving to make my way out of a tough childhood, and all through my life, my time in the U.S. Army, and my career. This is the wonderful thing about great literature. You can see yourself in the stories of others and realize that we are all part of the human family. That is a message we need, now more than ever.

This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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