Checking Out: La Jolla librarian Catherine Greene to retire

By Ashley Mackin

With 33 years of library service — the last six at La Jolla’s Riford Branch (and a few at La Jolla Country Day School) — Catherine Greene, La Jolla’s head librarian, will retire June 27.

“I am immensely grateful for having worked here. I’m very lucky,” she said, adding that the people she has come across have enriched her experiences. “People in this town are readers. They know what they are interested in, they know books and that is really fun for me.”

She also said the Friends of La Jolla Library have been great to work with, and the patrons are what she will miss the most.

“The whole place is so receptive to books and programming that it’s like a party all the time,” she said. “Sometimes I would think, ‘I get paid to do this?’ ”

Amy Valeiras, Friends of La Jolla Library board member, said a Catherine Greene Endowment has been set up at the San Diego Public Library Foundation to “provide funds for books and materials to La Jolla and the library system in Catherine’s name every year.” Contributions can be made to the fund at

or (619) 238-6615.

“La Jolla has benefitted from Catherine Greene’s passion and curiosity for literacy and information,” Valeiras said. “She is known throughout the San Diego Library system as the best-read librarian in the city, and she worked collaboratively with the Friends to make all their events and daily book sales successful.”

Having waited to announce her retirement until the last minute possible, Greene is exiting through a program the city offers.

“I made a commitment to the city five years ago, that I would retire within five years,” she explained. “I think it’s been exactly five years.”

Greene said she knew long ago that she would be a librarian for as long as she could. One day, while working for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street in New York, she asked herself, “What could I see myself doing until I’m 65?”

“So I sat down with a legal pad to write down everything I could think of doing, no matter where I lived,” she said. She could only come up with one job: librarian.

Her San Diego library history began in 1981 at the old Central Library downtown, although she was living in La Jolla at the time. “I was in the literature section, where I did the ordering for philosophy, religion, psychology and foreign literature, which was really fun because there is so much you don’t know and I got to read about all that stuff.”

She also worked part time at the La Jolla Country Day school library (1981-1989) while her three children — Clint, Polly and Emily — were in school, so she could have a schedule that matched theirs.

In 2006, she moved to the Mountain View/Beckwourth library in southern San Diego. “That branch stole a piece of my heart, they just needed so much. They have no money, not like this place,” she said.

In 2008, she transferred to the La Jolla branch, where she said she has witnessed some remarkable changes. Last year, the San Diego Public Library joined the Circuit System. If someone looks in the library’s catalog and cannot find a book, they can see if the “circuit” has it. The Circuit includes UC San Diego, SDSU, the county library and other libraries, which will send the book to the requesting branch.

The La Jolla branch also has “lease” books, which are the newer or more in-demand and can only be checked out for up to 14 days with no renewals.

Last year, Greene oversaw the installation of the College Room; a small alcove near the library entrance filled with college preparation resources.

She said she would come back to help with the book sale, which she said “keeps the place shining,” but that her retirement years in Coronado will be filled with traveling and reading.

She has a trip planned to New York, and eventually wants to take her children to Russia.

In the meantime, she will read. First on her list is “The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World,” by George Prochnik. Eventually, she hopes to read the Harvard Classics, which she jokes is “five feet of books.”

Shaun Briley will succeed her and starts June 30. The La Jolla resident comes to the Riford Branch from the Central Library downtown, where he was the circulation manager.