NEWFANE—If Lorena Cuevas were a book, she’d be hard to catalogue.
The new library director for Moore Free Library holds a bachelor of arts degree in art history from Fordham University and has extensive experience in arts administration, staff development, and operational management.
She is also a professional hospice chaplain with a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York. Since 2018, she has worked as a librarian at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro.
How does one go from being an art historian and serving as hospice chaplain to library director?
“The arts, practicing a religious tradition, being in nature, and enjoying time with loved ones are various modes of expressing meaning in our lives,” says Cuevas. “Ultimately both professions — professional spiritual care and the arts — require forging connections by reaching beyond one’s self, utilizing symbols, and telling our own stories.”
“When I read fiction, I feel a connection with the narrator that gives me insight that we have shared reflections. In a sense, fiction becomes the conduit for truth,” she continues. “As a hospice chaplain, I listen and validate people’s feelings and reflections. In this case, people’s self narratives are their ‘texts.’”
Cuevas says, too, that the management and administrative experience in all her work to date has led her to the directorship at Moore Free Library.
“It will be a challenge that combines all my interests — commitment to helping others, and maintaining a literary and visual arts collection,” she says. “All that to say that for me, it’s about caring for people and respectfully upholding their stories.”
From Chile to Newfane
The new director grew up in Santiago, Chile, and migrated to the U.S. and Guilford, Conn. She has also lived in Barcelona, in Paris, and in New York City, where she worked as a research assistant at the Frick Art Reference Library for 20 years.
She moved to Vermont in 2015 after feeling “citied out,” she says. Her husband Ken, five rescue cats, and dog Belle have lived in Newfane since 2016.
“This is definitely home,” Cuevas says. “There’s an element of beauty of nature and also an isolation that reminds me of my homeland in Chile because we’re very close to the Antarctic there.”
Cuevas is interested in helping patrons find readings that “help them make meaning and allow them to articulate their unique perspectives and reconnect with the sense that they are not alone.”
Young adult (YA) literature that “mirrors experiences that have been previously overlooked” is among her favorite genres.
“As an immigrant, as a female, as a person of color, I resonate with the stories where the hero/heroine is transformed and empowered because of, and in light of, their personal experience,” she says.
She credits her Brooks Memorial Library colleagues Lindsay Bellville, youth services librarian, and Chloë Liotta-Jones, assistant youth services librarian, for her delight in discovering middle-grade and young-adult literature.
“One such category is what author/editor Ellen Oh, co-founder of We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), strives to do by including diversity in children’s books,” Cuevas says.
According to its website, WNDB “strives to create a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book” and it does so by “mentoring and supporting diverse authors and illustrators.”
Cuevas counts among young adult books that have “delighted” her: Fresh Ink: An Anthology, edited by Lamar Giles; Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration, by Kate Hart, Aisha Saeed, Alex London, et al.; and The Greatest Superpower, by Alex Sanchez.
Asked who her favorite authors are, Cuevas, sense of humor firmly in place, responds that there are too many to list.
“It’s a mean question, really,” she says with a laugh.
“That’s a hard one. Some may be surprised how much I enjoy the work of Charles Bukowski. I have relished Carl G. Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections; Colette; Jonathan Franzen; Elena Ferrante; Ha Jin; and the work of my Latin American brothers and sisters Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende, Alejandro Zambra, Mario Benedetti, Ariel Dorfman, and Gabriel G. Márquez.
“During the pandemic, I’ve become a student of mystery literature — M.C. Beaton, Archer Mayor, Robert B. Parker. Currently on my bedside table are T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea; Snapdragon, by Kat Leyh; and Goodnight Moon.”
A library open to all
The new director, whose first day was Nov. 2, is eager to get to know patrons and hear what they appreciate about the library.
She’s also excited to partner with area nonprofits and/or neighboring organizations to offer programs that “incite and inspire visitors.”
A third project, she says, is to identify how to best preserve the library’s permanent art collection.
The Moore Free Library was founded in 1898 when Philura Moore donated her home, $2,000, and 2,000 books to the town of Newfane. Since then, the library has been independent of town government and receives no state or federal funds.
In 2000, Robert and Muriel Crowell funded the renovation of a barn on the Moore property into an art gallery and endowed the Library and Crowell Art Gallery with ongoing operational funds, a large collection of books from their private library, and a substantial collection of fine art, including several pieces by Newfane residents Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason.
In the fall of 2020, the library received a grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) to start a community-wide interviewing/oral history project, the Community Memory Project, to preserve the memories of residents of Newfane, Williamsville, South Newfane, and Brookline.
Cuevas recognizes that today many libraries are “working hard to remain relevant in our society.”
“Oft times, in addition to all things literary, they offer information on social programs that are based on visitors’ needs — information on food pantries, events, hotlines, et cetera. Having worked at Brooks under the leadership of Starr LaTronica, library director, I have seen how crucial it is to offer both hospitality and access to patrons and visitors.
“I encourage our Moore Free Library patrons to visit us, even for a friendly chat,” she continues. “Serving as library director in Newfane is a great honor for me.”
Above all, she says, “I want to make sure that our patrons know that this library is theirs and that they are welcomed.”