Althea Warren: Librarians Must Read!

“Every librarian, if she is going to amount to anything in her profession, must read, both systematically and spasmodically, both according to a plan and from the whim of the moment, both classics with a two-mile-an-hour speed maximum and the cold-blooded lacerations of all sanity and decency achieved by the new generation.

What is more, librarians should read in working hours, if no assigned duty is being neglected, and outside of work hours, even, on occasion, to the wan light of morning (when they get hold of something like James Hilton’s ‘Was It Murder?’) to the detriment of health and eyesight and common sense.

They should chop down, root out, burn over, and grub up the thickets and undergrowth of minor pleasures and obligations and interruptions of the vast areas of present-day life until an armchair or an arbor or an ambuscade has been won where there is a chance for reading.

They must be willing to choose the leaden box which contains a duodecimo volume in preference to the silver bonbonniere of social engagements or even the golden casket crammed with railroad and theatre and opera and movie and aeroplane and racetrack tickets.

They must read as a drunkard drinks or a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience nor training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world…

P.S. How to achieve reading: Don’t try to have time for reading first — read first and think up excuses for it afterwards. Lie lightheartedly if necessary. The night you promised to go to dinner with the best friend of your foster aunt, just telephone that you have such a bad cold you’re afraid she’ll catch it, and stay at home instead and gobble ‘Lucy Gayheart’ in one gulp like a boa constrictor…”

—Althea H. Warren, excerpted and a little altered from “Read Without Weeping” and speech at the 1935 Conference of the Pacific Northwest Library Association

Miss Warren (1886–1958) was a beloved librarian for several libraries, including for Sears, Roebuck and Company, and she was president of the American Library Association for a couple of years. This was written while City Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library in California. During World War II she organized and directed a campaign to send books to servicemen overseas. She was known as “Thea” to her friends. Another quotation of hers addressed to librarians is, “You must read endlessly and glory in doing it,” which I think is a nice summary of the above speech. –tg

Althea Warren Read Without Weeping
Original post date: 2016 Mar 3
1st major revision: 2019 Jul 12