Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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a rv in
o w e n t h a l
WILL feel more at ease, and perhaps you will too, when I
make it clear at the outset that I am not and never have been
a professional librarian. I say this with neither satisfaction nor
regret, for I have no prejudice in the matter: some of my best
friends have been librarians.
I state it simply as an item of fact that I am not a caretaker or
dispenser of books. I am merely a consumer of books. I have been
—shall I say afflicted?—that way for nearly my whole life; and as a
result I have had, it is true, long and varied and rather close
acquaintance with libraries, not only in American towns and
universities, but in a half-dozen countries of Europe as well as
in other parts of the world.
Dr. Johnson once said: “A man will turn over half a library
to make one book.” In the course of the years I have been guilty
of making about a dozen books, not one of which could have
been written without extensive raids upon public and private
libraries. If my audience were all librarians I could spend the
evening telling about the amusing hurdles I have had to leap,
the baffling regulations I have had to circumvent, the eccentric
yet often charming librarians I have cultivated in order to add
to their burdens by producing still another volume for their
But my deep interest in libraries, their strong attraction for
me, and my ardent love for them, do not come from the profes-
sional use I have made of them. “A great library,” it has been
said, “contains the diary of the human race”; and I never tire of
reading in that diary—of reliving, in all their drama, pathos and
glory, the adventures of mankind. If I am not wise, 1 can at least,
in a library, consort with the wisest men of all time, and hope,
perhaps fondly, that a bit of their wisdom will brush off on me.
If I cannot sing, I can at least listen and thrill to the songs of
the supreme poets. When we come to think of it, most of us,
in our daily business, lead prosaic and parochial lives; most of
us, in the actual flesh, have virtually been nowhere, seen nothing,
* An address delivered at the inauguration of the Henry Meyers Memorial
Library of the Jewish Community Center, Detroit (November 21, 1959)
and at the annual meeting in New York of the Jewish Book Council of
America (May 11, 1960).