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Althea Warren:
Librarians Must Read!

Below is an abridged version of librarian Althea Warren’s 1935 essay and speech “Read Without Weeping.” Citation details and a brief bio for Warren follow. Thank you very much to George Cumming for his assistance with content for this page.  —ღ Terri

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 arm-chair 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 should follow the three rules for librarianship, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s three rules for writers:  “The first is, read; the second is, read; and the third is, read.” They should count the charges on their own library cards and see to it, as professional members of a library staff, that the crooked little date stamps outnumber those of the average public cardholder.

They must have a fervid feeling about books. 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. They must be biblio-inebriates!

P.S.  Ways 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. And choose for your close, year-after-year, come-for-Sunday, go-on-my-vacation-with-me friends, people with the gift for finding good books and telling you about them.

—Althea H. Warren, excerpted and modified from her “Read Without Weeping” speech at the Twenty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Pacific Northwest Library Association, 1935, Portland, Oregon

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 essay and speech were 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 instruction she addressed to librarians was, “You must read endlessly and glory in doing it,” which I think is a nice summary of the above speech.  –tg

Althea Hester Warren

Image source: Fervent and Full of Gifts,
Martha Boaz, 1961, The Scarecrow Press

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published 2016 Mar 3
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