Warren, Althea (1886-1958)

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Warren, Althea (1886–1958)

American librarian . Born Althea Hester Warren on December 18, 1886, in Waukegan, Illinois; died on December 20, 1958; daughter of Lansing Warren and Emma Newhall (Blodgett) Warren; University of Chicago, Ph.B., 1908; University of Wisconsin Library School, B.S.L.S., 1911.

Served as the president of the California Library Association (1921–22); as city librarian, successfully maneuvered the Los Angeles Public Library through difficult eras of budget cuts; assumed the directorship of the Victory Book Campaign, collecting five million books for military personnel during World War II; served as president of the American Library Association (1943–44).

After earning a Ph.B. from the University of Chicago and a library science degree from the University of Wisconsin Library School, Althea Warren became branch librarian for the Chicago Public Library in 1911, serving a poor immigrant community on the city's northwest side. She left that position in 1912 to work as a librarian for Sears, Roebuck and Company before joining her widowed mother Emma Blodgett Warren in San Diego and accepting a position at the San Diego Public Library in 1915. Within one year, she had assumed the duties of head librarian there. Her ten-year administration of the library had as its defining characteristic her strong belief in a democratic workplace. The San Diego staff was involved with all facets of the library throughout its dramatic reorganization. Recognizing her capabilities, her colleagues elected her president of the California Library Association in 1921.

While on a leave of absence from the San Diego Public Library to care for her ailing mother, Warren accepted an offer to become the assistant city librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library. She once again demonstrated her talent for handling major changes when she assumed the responsibility of moving the library's collection from a rented building to the new facility. She also launched a careful study of book turnover and set in motion a proposal for salary increases that made Los Angeles librarians some of the highest paid in the country. By 1933, she was named city librarian. Warren took charge of the library system during the difficult Depression era, when universal belt-tightening resulted in severe budget cuts. She minimized the impact of shorter hours, personnel cuts, and reduced services through successful juggling of her small resources and masterful public relations work. She guided the Los Angeles Public Library through a similar financial crisis during World War II, combating book and personnel shortages by extending the hours and initiating special war programs. At the same time, she took on the daunting task of organizing a national campaign to collect millions of books for military personnel at the request of the American Library Association president, Charles H. Brown. As director of the Victory Book Campaign, Warren helped the campaign reach its goal of five million books within four months. In 1943, she was elected to the presidency of the American Library Association, the first Californian so honored. In her year's service in this post, she actively lobbied for federal grant money for American libraries, while also working to enact changes within the association itself.

Warren's retirement from the city librarian position in 1947 did not end her work with public libraries. She moved into the academic arena as an instructor at the Library School of the University of Southern California, which led to invitations to teach at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. Her teaching career ended where it began, at the University of Southern California, in 1957. She died a year later.


Current Biography 1942. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Dictionary of American Library Biography. Edited by Bohdan S. Wynar. Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1978.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Warren, Althea (1886-1958)

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