Allen Cohen, a retired UC Santa Barbara librarian, is an active member of the Santa Barbara literary and arts scene. Allen avidly reads, borrows, and collects books; attends concerts and plays; participates in book clubs at the public library; admires and collects art (with a focus on student work); and donates generously to the activities he cherishes. The arts and culture “are a significant reason for us to go on living,” Allen said.
In addition to his book and art collecting interests, Allen and his wife, Lamar, are committed learners, regularly seeking out opportunities to be intellectually challenged. They attend classes through the Santa Barbara City College School of Extended Learning on topics as varied as chess, Shakespeare, film and literary classics. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, Allen took advantage of the many movie houses in his neighborhood and cultivated a lifelong interest in the world of film. Now, as an adult student, Allen is currently enrolled in two SBCC literature/film classes taught by Mark Ferrer, the son of Mel Ferrer, a Hollywood Film actor.
A steadfast supporter of the UC Santa Barbara Library, Allen served on the board of the former Friends of the UCSB Library and is a current monthly donor to the Library to support the Art & Architecture Collection and Special Research Collections. In 2016, for UCSB’s first-ever Give Day in April, Allen donated $25,000 to the Library to acquire the archive of Turkey Press, a renowned book arts press established by UCSB Faculty Emeritus Harry Reese and his partner Sandra Liddell Reese.
“I have a deep feeling for libraries,” Allen said. “They’ve been a major part of my life.”
While earning a literature degree at the City College of New York, he worked as a student assistant in the school’s library. When he learned “there was such a thing as a master’s degree in library science” he went on to complete one at the Pratt Institute. His first job as a librarian was at the New York Public Library. In 1980, Allen moved to California where he accepted a job as Head of Cataloging at UC Santa Barbara Library.
Allen is the author of two nonfiction books. With Harry Lawton, in 1997 he wrote John Huston: A Guide to References and Resources, about the film director-actor-writer. In 2003, he and Ronald Filippelli published Times of Sorrow and Hope: Documenting Everyday Life in Pennsylvania During the Depression and World War II: A Photographic Record, which includes 150 Pennsylvania photos drawn from the work of now famous artists and photographers hired by The Farm Security Administration (FSA) between 1933-1945.
While not opposed to digital technology—during his tenure at UC Santa Barbara, he led efforts to move cataloging from traditional cards to a computerized system—Allen still appreciates the power of a bound printed work. He often visits the Library to spend time among the stacks and borrows books to support his coursework at Santa Barbara City College. “As an author, when you hold the effects of everything you have done in your hand, you really feel that you’ve made a contribution to the world of literature and research,” he said.