How Living In A Library Gave One Man ‘The Thirst Of Learning’

23 Oct 2017

When he was young, Ronald Clark lived in the library.

Literally.

Clark: You see, decades ago, custodians who worked in the New York Public Library often lived in the buildings with their families. My father, Raymond, was one of those custodians. We lived on the top floor of the Washington Heights branch in upper Manhattan.

Since what time did you live there?

Clark: Wemoved there in 1949, when I was 15 years old. In the 1970s, I raised my daughter, Jamilah, in the same apartment until she was 5.

The job of library custodian, is like being “the keeper of the temple of knowledge,” you said.

Clark: Yes, I really think so. In some libraries, it’s all chewing gum wrappers and dust. My dad’s library, you could see nothing but wax. He would even wax the tops of the bookshelves. And when we walked up those stairs and looked down on the book stacks, they gleamed.

How did you find living in the library?

Clark: At first, I was ashamed of my unusual home. You always want to be normal. I never invited any of my friends to visit.

But nobody else had as many books as you had, isn’t it so?

Clark: (Smiling) O yes! And once the library closed for the day, I reveled in being the only kid in the building.I could run and scream and jump and yell.

Besides, you could take and read any book you liked!

Clark: That was great! And if I had any question about anything, I would get up in the middle of the night, go down, get out a book, read until 3 o’clock in the morning, I began to realize how great I had it because the library gave me the thirst of learning — and this just never left me.

You said, the time living in the library shaped the man you would become.

Clark: I was the first in my family to graduate from high school, and after college, I got a position as a professor teaching history at Cape Cod Community College.

O your father was extremely proud of it, wasn’t he?

Clark: Really he was! I took my dad to the college.And I showed him the classroom and my name on the door — Professor Clark. He just nodded. You know how Daddy is, quiet. But … I saw the way he looked at it. He wanted me to have higher horizons, and I can hardly even imagine what my life would’ve been like had I not lived in the library.

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