Librarian Hero: Althea Warren (#WillaOnWednesday)

Yesterday I wrote about Susan Orlean’s new book, The Library Book.

Today I’m sharing a tidbit about Althea Warren, one of the librarians that Orlean writes about.

Althea Warren Legendary L.A. Librarian (

A Victory Book Campaign publicity photo of Althea Warren, November 26, 1941. (Source: Andrew Brozyna)


Warren had a legendary career as a librarian. Among her list of accomplishments are serving as the head librarian at the LA Public Library from 1933-1947, as director of the Victory Book Campaign during World War II, and as the president of the American Library Association.

But our focus here today is on a Willa Cather connection for #WillaOnWednesday.

Orlean writes,

“Warren was probably the most avid reader who ever ran the library. She believed librarians’ single greatest responsibility was to read voraciously. Perhaps she advocated this role in order to be sure librarians knew their books, but for Warren, this directive was based in emotion and philosophy: She wanted librarians to simply adore the act of reading for its own sake, and perhaps, as a collateral benefit, they could inspire their patrons to read with a similarly insatiable appetite. As she said in a speech to a library association in 1935, librarians should “read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a cat sleeps or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training, but because they’d rather do it than anything else in the world.”

The Willa Cather connection is coming…

“Throughout her life, Warren published little tip sheets—“Althea’s Ways to Achieve Reading”—to encourage people to find time for books. She approved of fibbing if it gave you an additional opportunity to read. “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,” she wrote in one of her tip sheets. “Stay at home instead and gobble Lucy Gayheart in one gulp like a boa constrictor.”

Yes! Doesn’t this make you want to read all of Warren’s tip sheets?

Read Andrew Brozyna’s article about Warren, “Read Like a Cat Sleeps: The Formidable Career of Librarian Althea Warren” here.

Lucy Gayheart is Cather’s eleventh novel and was published in 1935. I’ve always thought of it as the inverse of The Song of the Lark. Have you read it?


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