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Encore: How Living In A Library Gave One Man 'The Thirst Of Learning'



It's Friday, which means StoryCorps. And this morning, we hear from a family who lived inside a library. Back in the 1940s, custodians who worked in the New York Public Library often lived in the buildings with their families. Ronald Clark's father, Raymond, was one of those custodians. And for three decades, he lived with his family on the top floor of a branch in Upper Manhattan. At StoryCorps, Ronald told his daughter how growing up in the library shaped the man he would become.

RONALD CLARK: As a child, I always thought I was rich. And one day at the dinner table, I said something like, I'm so glad we're rich. And my father almost choked. And my mother said, well, honey, we're not exactly rich. And Dad said, we're poor; do you understand; we're poor (laughter). And then they offered my dad to be - a position as the library custodian. And my father was the keeper of the temple of knowledge. In some libraries, it's all chewing gum wrappers and dust. In my dad's library, you saw nothing but wax. He would even wax the tops of the bookshelves. And when you walked up those stairs and looked down on the book stacks, they gleamed.

JAMILAH CLARK: Did you realize how different your home was from your friends?

R CLARK: Well, at first, I was kind of ashamed of it as a child because you always want to be normal. I've never invited any of my friends to visit. They would always say, this guy lives in the library; I mean, he literally lives in the library, you know. But nobody else had as many books as I had. You had to be very quiet during the day. But once the library closed, I was the only kid in the building. I could run and scream and jump and yell. 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. Coming from a family in which nobody had ever graduated from high school, much less gone on to college, I was the first one. After I graduated, I had - got a position teaching at a college. I took my dad, 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.


GREENE: Ronald and Jamilah Clark at StoryCorps in New York City. Three generations of the Clark family, including Jamilah, lived in that library until Ronald's father, Raymond Clark, retired as the library's custodian in the late '70s. That conversation will be archived in another library, the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.