Library Cats

Dear Tuki,
I recently heard of a species of cat that I’m not familiar with. What can you tell me about felis cattus bibliotheca? Is this a new breed? Is it domestic or wild? And, where do you find these unusual cats?
Signed, Cat Fancier

Dear Cat Fancier,
Although felis cattus bibliotheca is a fairly rare animal, it has an ancient and revered history. Also called felis libris, this cat is best known by its everyday name, the Library Cat. The first known cat to have accepted a working position in a library was a feline named Myeo. She lived in the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt before 282 BC, under head librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum. In ancient times, manuscripts were fragile scrolls of papyrus, stacked haphazardly on shelves. The papyrus attracted mice and rats and it was the job of the assistant librarian to keep the rodents from damaging the scrolls. As you can imagine, this was a very frustrating job.

At that time, there was a sub-librarian named Petsis, who was in the habit of going fishing along the Nile after work. During his fishing expeditions, he became friends with a small cat. He named her Myeo. Soon enough, she followed him home, then to his work at the Alexandria Library. That is where she proved her true worth. Each night Myeo would catch rodents, depositing them on Petsis’ desk. The sub-librarian, realizing Myeo was the perfect solution to his problem, recruited several more feline ratters for the library. Petsis named each cat and began keeping detailed records of the number of rodents caught by each one. When Myeo died, she was mummified and with a record of her service, was placed in a cat cemetery.

Perhaps one of the best-known of the modern felis cattus libris, was Dewey Readmore Books. One frigid January night in 1987, when still a tiny kitten, he was deposited in the night drop box of the Public Library in Spencer, Iowa. Vicki Myron, the library’s director, found the nearly frozen kitten the next morning. His resilience and charm won her heart and led to his appointment as the resident library cat. She named him after the Dewey Decimal System used to catalogue library books. Dewey served as Library Cat for 19 years, bringing joy to everyone he met. By the time he passed away, books had been written about him, a movie was in the works and he was known around the world.

Dewey’s job description outlines the role of all modern felis cattus bibliotheca: 1) Stress reduction for staff and patrons 2) Door greeter 3) Package inspector 4) Meetings supervisor 5) Comic relief for staff and visitors 6) Impromptu book bag and briefcase examiner 7) Public relations manager -photos, videos, website supervision 8) And, although mice in the stacks are no longer a major problem, the felis cattus bibliothecas always keep a paw in rodentia control. Dewey can still be seen in action at: www.spencerlibrary.com/dewey.

Leo Katz was the unofficial library cat of the Brockton, Massachusetts Public Library, from 1990 to about 2000. He lived down the street at the Bowie Pet Supply Store, owned and operated by Charles Striler. Mornings, Mr. Striler would let Leo out to make his rounds, first to the funeral home, the YMCA and eventually to the front door of the Public Library. There, he meowed until he was let inside. Each day, he flirted with the staff, entertained the patrons and finally curled up for a mid-day snooze under the card files. At 5 pm, he headed home to Mr. Striler for dinner. Leo became such a local celebrity that the library began selling T-shirts emblazoned with his picture and the caption, “All the cool cats hang out at the Brockton Public Library.” Sales raised about $500 per year for the library. Leo was one of the cats featured in a documentary by Gary Roma entitled “Puss in Books: Adventures of the Library Cat.”

The Arkansas School for the Blind employs several cats who are involved in their accelerated reading program. Piper, a kitten rescued from a drainpipe in 2000, was the first. He was soon joined by Big Footsie, Alex, Shadow and Bob.

The lives of library cats are not without controversy. During a winter storm in 1996, Leo Katz did not return home for dinner. Fearing for his pet’s safety, Mr. Striler went to the library and picked him up. He was not allowed out after that. Library patrons were outraged. The librarians feared they would never see him again. Then local newspaper got involved. When the smoke finally cleared and the weather improved, Leo was reluctantly allowed to return to library duty.

Just last June, in the small city of White Settlement, Texas, population 16,000, the public library’s mascot cat became the center of a heated dispute. Browser, a 6 year old Lynx Point Siamese who had been at the library for over 5 years, was fired. The media went wild, stating that a disgruntled council woman had filed the motion because she wasn’t allowed to bring her dog to work. Another council member sited public health issues as the reason the cat had to go. The library was given 30 days to find Browser a new home. News agencies from London, Australia and Guam picked up the story. A petition was posted on-line and within 12 hours it had more than 20,400 signatures. A few weeks later, a special meeting of the City Council was hastily called. The place was packed and within 20 minutes, Browser was reinstated.

There are more than 600 known Library Cats around the world, with names such as Libris, Baker & Taylor, Stacks, Pages, Porter C. (Cat-alog) Bibliocat and T.L.C. (Top Library Cat). Many of these cats have their own Face book pages and Blogs. Cats and libraries, the purr-fect match.

Love and tweets, Tuki