Marianne Carolla remembers when there were eight neighborhood library branches, not only the five current (including the main). In particular she remembers the storefront branch on Chapel at Norton, where the paperbacks hung on spindles as in an old book store window.
Once a man, a library patron, came in and said to her, “I want something that’s hot to trot.”
She discovered a whole series of books entitled “Hot to Trot.” They were a hit.
So much so that weeks later, when the books were due, the man’s wife returned them, not in outrage, but asking for a bunch more in the same vein.
This was just one of many memories of library service — in all its range, variety, and challenges — that emerged during a tasty and warm tribute in honor of Carolla, who began her work at the New Haven Free Public Library on Oct. 24, 1966.
Marking a half century of employment to the precise day, Carolla was at the center of a pierogi (it’s national Polish culture month, the kind of occasion the library always notices) and cake-filled lunch at the staff room on the third floor of the Ives Main Branch Monday afternoon.
New Haven-born and St. Mary’s Catholic-school educated Carolla began as a library assistant while still a student at Southern Connecticut State University. She went on to finish her bachelor and library degree while working up to being a reference librarian at the NHFPL and serving an over 50-year career in all eight of its branches.
Library Director Martha Brogan and Carolla’s other colleagues hailed her as the go-to-source for information and resources if no one else could locate them, and as a model librarian whose patience, thoroughness, helpfulness, kindness, and reliability have not faded in a half century.
“When there’s a question no one can answer, she has it,” said Director of Circulation Services Maria Tonelli, who was also a colleague of Carolla at St. Mary’s High School, then on Orange Street where the New Haven Academy is today.
While the festivities unfolded, Tonelli went down to the library’s local history room just off the Ives rotunda, and found the 1963 yearbook of St. Mary’s High School.
No surprise: The info under the photo of Carolla states she was a member of the library club even then.
Her college majors were elementary education and then sociology.
So why did Carolla choose to pursue a working life in the library?
Carolla answered that while she was growing up, the library had always been the go-to place for her and her siblings. “My mother took us there during the week and my father on Saturday,” she said. “You’d sit and read, but we couldn’t go up to the adult section in those days.”
More than once, Carolla said, she has helped a family at the information desk and the adult turned to the kid and said, in effect, “This lady helped me when I was your age!”
The many library branches where Carolla has worked include the “hot to trot” branch at Chapel and Norton; the Stetson branch when it was on Dixwell and Thompson Street; the John Davenport Branch, which was on Portsea Street in Trowbridge Square; the branch that was on the site of the current Nathan Hale School; the one on Wilmot Road in West Rock; and the Conte Library facing Wooster Square, which doubled as both a lending library and a community center.
Brogan said the contemporary movement to combine the library with other community services is a kind of back-to-the-future model.
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The theme emerging from colleagues’ remarks: This model librarian treats her colleagues as well as library patrons with the same human qualities that, for five decades, have kept her from becoming, to use Deputy Director Cathy DeNigris’s word, “jaded.”
“I always treat them like family, co-workers and the public as well,” Carolla said.
“I always tell [colleagues] that if a homeless person comes up or someone and you smell the alcohol, think how fortunate you are and they are not. When you treat them with respect, they do you. And they don’t forget it.”
More than once, Carolla said, she has been walking on the street or through the Green and she hears a hello: “Hey there, Miss Librarian!”
While Carolla is at peace with the consolidation of the library for fiscal reasons into fewer branches — and praises the advent of the bookmobile that reaches neighborhoods underserved by the branches — she said that “it’s a loss for some of the neighborhoods.”
Library clients, especially older people who had used the East Shore branch in the Nathan Hale School, found it a challenge to get to the next closest branch in Fair Haven, she said. Several ended up going to the system in East Haven, she added.
Carolla also recalled bringing books on her own time to residents of the senior complex at Tower One, when the local branch nearby closed.
In addition to the appreciation and hugs of colleagues, Carolla received an official proclamation from Mayor Toni Harp and the city, which included not only praise for Carolla’s longevity, but for her advice to kids that “they must read on a daily basis.”
Carolla is not retiring. In fact, she’s nearing the finish of a second master’s degree at Albertus Magnus College.