Carolyn Rhodes' Book
Library Girls of New York
A Secret Place
List Price: $15.99 PB
December 1, 2019
Library Girls of New York is a true story, a recollection of growing up in an unusual place. The author lived inside an apartment in two New York Public Libraries with her Mom and Dad and two sisters from the 1940s to the 1970s.
Memoir of childhood leaves reader wanting more
Library Girls of New York: A Secret Place
The millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie believed deeply in philanthropy. He was famous for giving a dime to anyone who asked, which sounds cheap, but is not really. Most millionaires did not want to be bothered.
Carnegie believed “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” During the last 18 years of his life he gave away $350 million, about $65 billion in today’s money. He is in this sense a forefather of Bill and Melinda Gates and other generous billionaires of today.
Since Carnegie also believed that one should spend the first third of one’s life acquiring an education, he especially like to endow and build libraries. Carnegie built some 3,000 libraries, in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere around the world.
Of these, 65 were built in New York City and at first, 30 of these had apartments for the custodian and his family to live in.
Carolyn Rhodes’ father was one of these custodians. In this, her memoir of an unusual childhood, she tells how this was a 24/7 job. Early every morning, her father stoked up the coal furnace, so the building was warm for the librarians and first patrons when it opened at 9 a.m.
For their inhabitants, the buildings were not just warm; they were elegant. Carnegie favored the beaux-art style and hired fine architects. Besides living in beautiful surroundings, Carolyn and her two older sisters could use the library after closing hours and on Sunday to finish up schoolwork they still needed to do.
Over time Carolyn lived in two libraries: one in Manhattan and the other one on Staten Island.
In one chapter, Carl Sandburg sings and recites to a group of schoolchildren. Rhodes remembers one scene well, quotes Sandburg while sitting on his lap.
After high school Rhodes lived a while in San Francisco, during a ’60′s hippie stage. She trusted a cute stranger she met at a laundromat (he had a big, sweet, shaggy dog), but, after consuming “brownies laced with mind altering drugs and ... pills sprinkled on top,” she lost a few days. It’s not fair to expect people to remember the ’60′s.
Later, Rhodes traveled in Europe and worked in New York theater as a dancer and choreographer, including one show she directed during college and toured with. It featured Renaissance and Medieval musical instruments such as “sackbuts, zinks, [and] krumhorns” as well as lutes and bells. The Troupe performed at Lincoln Center.
As with several other segments, there was more to say. I would be happy to hear it.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.
Step into the Library with Carolyn Rhodes
June 11, 2020
Posted by Katy Haas
Guest Post by Suzanne G. Beyer
I just finished reading Library Girls of New York, Carolyn Rhodes’s 2019 memoir of growing up in two New York City libraries. I had no clue that Andrew Carnegie provided an apartment above NYC libraries for the custodian and his family to live in. But there’s a lot I didn’t know until I read her book.
You’d think that such an upbringing—no picket fence, no grassy yard, no flowerbeds—could be a reason for an under-privileged childhood . . . quite the opposite for author Rhodes!
Carolyn writes of the many unique opportunities living in the Tompkins Square Library. She played in the nearby tree-lined park, experienced “terrifying” and also great teachers in the public school, and witnessed her dad intercepting bullies when one would follow her home from school. She also got to sit on the lap of Carl Sandburg.
Carolyn saw firsthand what it was like to work hard seeing what her dad did every day. His day started early, 4:00 a.m., to stoke the fire in the basement to heat the entire library which would open later that morning. He was on call 24/7 to oversee all aspects of the library, from carpentry to keeping rowdy kids in line. Carolyn’s mother also displayed that underlying work ethic. As a former seamstress for New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store, Carolyn’s mother continued to make all the clothes for her and her two sisters.
I met Carolyn at Curtis High School, Staten Island, NY. Despite classmates asking her, “You live in the liberry?” (We all said “liberry”) we both became cheerleaders, which in itself, was a competitive feat just to make the prestigious squad. She told me of practicing her jumps and cartwheels in the library, among the bookshelves, when it was closed on Sundays. We instantly formed a bond; although quite different, she was short and I was tall, she lived in the “liberry” and I lived on the hill with the grassy yard.
I’m truly grateful to learn the details of Carolyn’s upbringing and education outside of school, 60 years later, through her memoir. I highly recommend this book
Library Girls of New York: A Secret Place by Carolyn Rhodes. Borgo Publishing, December 2019.
Reviewer bio: Suzanne G. Beyer, a resident of Bothell, WA, is the former Associate Editor for Seattle’s Northwest Prime Time, co-author of the book, The Inventor’s Fortune Up For Grabs, and writes nonfiction articles for national magazines.
About the Author
Carolyn Rhodes has been recognized for her published articles, essays and blogs, and has won several writing awards. She lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, her home for the past twenty-five years. Carolyn’s New York City roots are evident to all who meet her. In her memoir, “Library Girls of New York,” she shares her experiences while growing up inside two New York Public Carnegie live-in libraries (NYPL). It is a unique and true story which covers the years from 1930s until her Dad retired from the NYPL, mid-1970s. Carolyn retired from the University of Alabama (worked in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa) where she wrote feature articles and edited publications. Presently, she is an exercise instructor for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) located on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. When Carolyn is not writing, she is line dancing several days a week.