Meet the Staff: Lesbia Orta Varona

Nineteen sixty-six: a time before computers and online catalogs when microfilm was the norm and the Cuban Heritage Collection had not yet been established. Nineteen sixty-six: the year Lesbia Orta Varona joined the staff at the University of Miami Otto G. Richter Library. She has seen the library grow and change, welcoming new technology and adapting to the evolving needs of its patrons.

Lesbia’s journey with books began at an early age. She was a librarian at the national library in Havana, Cuba until 1962 when she and her husband decided to come to the States around the time when Cuban-U.S. relations broke down. Lesbia learned of an opening at Richter through her aunt, who was working at the UM library at the time.

Working part-time at the library while pursuing a bachelor’s degree at UM, Lesbia eventually went on to obtain a Masters in Library Science from Florida State University after three summers of intensive study.

“Now I look at my past and I don’t understand how I was able to do everything in order to achieve what I wanted. So for me it was very important to get that degree because it guaranteed in a certain way my future as a librarian,” Lesbia recalls.

Starting in acquisitions, Lesbia eventually moved on to work with U.S. government publications, all while collecting Cuban books and periodicals on the side. She remembers when, as the head of the Microforms and Reserves Department, computers were finally implemented for online cataloging in the 1980s. The Cuban materials she accumulated would later become part of today’s CHC collections.

A move to the 8th floor to work with Esperanza de Varona followed, and in 2003, with the help of a gift from The Goizueta Foundation, the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion was built on Richter’s second floor to house the Cuban Heritage Collection.

After all this time, Lesbia still finds pleasure in her work as bibliographer for the collection. “I am very happy with my job. I love to meet new people. I love to be able to help the students or anybody that comes from another university or institute [with their research]. It is important to feel like you can help other people to go ahead in their endeavors.”

When asked what’s next for her, Lesbia laughs and says “retirement,” although she’s not looking forward to it.