Like many other Cuban immigrants, music alumna Eva Reyes Cisnero, ‘11 moved to South Florida with little resource and knowledge of the English language in pursuit of a better life.
While looking for information on places and public transportation, Reyes-Cisnero made the public library her main source of reference, not knowing this would transform the course of her life.
“When I moved to Miami for the first time, I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have a family. I had nothing, so the public library was the place I used for internet access, to find out about city resources, and borrow plenty of books/videos I couldn’t afford any other way. The library was always my point of reference and a place that helped me to understand who I am and where I am standing,” said Reyes Cisnero.
She was appointed in December 2016 as Librarian in the U.S. Library of Congress, which houses more than 162 million items, working under the Iberia/Rio Office Section of The African, Latin American and Western European Division. There, she acquires, processes and catalogs materials from the Iberian Peninsula, Brazil, Surinam and Uruguay and is required to communicate in Spanish, Portuguese, Basque, Galician and Catalán.
While studying at the FIU School of Music as a classical guitarist, she first worked at the FIU Green Library in the cataloging department, audio/visual collections and digital collection center. Later, she worked as a conservation assistant at the University of Miami Libraries’ Conservation Lab and interned at the university’s Cuban Heritage Collection.
“The FIU Green Library was the turning point from being a regular library user/patron to become a librarian. It changed my relationship with books forever. The first time I heard about the Library of Congress was at its cataloging department. I was like, ‘Oh my god. That place must be amazing.’ So, here I am,” she said.
She started studying musicology, guitar performance and art history in Havana, Cuba. However, her grandmother encouraged her to spend time at her local public library in Florida, which she said is now bare.
“My grandmother planted the seed and said books are the way to go. Every time I go back to my old town, I cry. That library was always full of people and knowledge. This days everybody is gone and the books too. I’ve kept that part of my childhood with me because the library was a central part of my life. It was my second home.”
As a single mother, Reyes Cisnero found the flexibility of the School of Music program crucial to her success. Under the direction of Music Professor David Dolata, she learned basic research techniques by writing a fully cited 30 page research paper as her capstone project. She also chose a cognate the enabled her to take enough courses in Cuban studies to earn a Cuban and Cuban-American Studies Certificate at FIU.
“We’re really proud of Eva’s new position because she has found a place in one of the world’s most important institutions dedicated to preserving history and culture. Eva is an example to FIU students because she came to this country with next to nothing and she found a home at FIU. It was through her persistence and hard work that she was able to find and pursue her dreams,” said Dolata.
During last year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, Reyes Cisnero presented a lecture at the Library of Congress Hispanic Division and the Hispanic Cultural Society on 19th-century Cuba using maps, census, newspapers, travel guides and other documents to illustrate historical moments.
She continues to be engaged with music by participating at the Library of Congress Chorale.
“Music is always going to be with me. I breathe music,” Reyes Cisnero said.
“Some people say I give them hope for being both a Hispanic and black woman and for being a single mom for many years. Nothing is impossible. When your goals are set, you can do anything,” she said.