Articles in Featuring Felines are written by
History - Society - Job Description - Rules
[ see also our pages and images of library cats in America and elsewhere via links below ]
While there are undoubtedly those who would disagree, many people find that one or more cats make a valuable and welcome addition to the 'staff' of public libraries. Not only do they keep the establishment rodent-free, but they have a calming effect and make the reading room feel more like home, especially for younger patrons and also for senior citizens who maybe live in accommodation where no pets are allowed. Many of the library cats make their presence known and enjoy greeting visitors; others prefer more of a 'backroom' role behind the scenes.
Cats in libraries are not a new idea. The libraries of ancient Egypt made the animals welcome perhaps to be expected in a society that worshipped them; and there has been an 'army' of cats to keep down rodents in Russia's Hermitage Museum and library for more than 250 years.
Not so many years ago there were thought to be several hundred cats in libraries around the world, many of them being in the United States of America, but exact numbers were hard to come by and anyway constantly changed, as some cats died and other, new ones might have been taken on or not. There are undoubtedly fewer library cats these days, and there could be several reasons for this. Budget cuts might have played some part, although usually the cats aren't on any official payroll but are fed and cared for by staff and patron contributions. The presence of cats must of course be approved by the library Board, and it seems that in many cases they are more reluctant than in the past to give that approval. One reason for this has probably to do with the question of some clients suffering from allergies to felines (or at least claiming to); the Board has an obligation to take such matters seriously and it can lead to a cat not being replaced when it dies or, in extreme cases, being 'evicted' and having to be rehomed. In contrast, some libraries manage to deal with the problem effectively while still keeping a cat. It can be done, and we certainly feel it's the best solution.
For very many years there was a remarkable database of worldwide library cats to be found at Gary Roma's Iron Frog site, an excellent resource for anyone interested in these felines, but unfortunately it hadn't been updated for quite some time and in any case hasn't been available since about the end of 2016 (a good deal of it is preserved at the Internet Archive, however start here). Our own accounts have dealt almost entirely with library cats in the United States, since they were more numerous there than anywhere else. In 2018 it seems likely that this is still the case, although as mentioned above their numbers have reduced quite sharply over recent years. We also have pages for a small number of library cats from elsewhere in the world (see further links below), but precious few are 'current'.
Dewey, the most famous library cat of all, died in 2006, but has left us his job description and rules for library cats, which are reproduced below. His own story, with photos and links, is told in our Famous Felines section. We should also not forget Baker and Taylor of a couple of decades earlier at A small Nevada library; they also enjoyed huge fame in the 1980s and early 1990s.
There was even a Library Cat Society, founded by Phyllis Lahti of Minnesota in 1987, but, while it ran for a number of years, it is no longer in operation. Its objectives were to encourage the establishment of a cat or cats in library environments, to improve the well-being and image of library cats, and to encourage library staff to recognise the advantages of a feline 'literary presence' and to respect the animals.
The story of the Society began during a Minnesota winter blizzard, when Phyllis heard a cat mewing piteously outside the door of her home. She recognised him as one of the street cats she had been feeding, but he was distressed and suffering from bites and sores. She took him in and gave him 'first aid', but her own two cats made it clear they weren't about to welcome any newcomer so she took him to her workplace at the Bryant Public Library. Given the name Royal Reggie, 'because of his regal bearing', this feline soon established himself as Cat in Residence, his preferred spot to hang out being the reference room.
Visit our pages for American Library Cats
If you know of any library cats to add to our entries, let me know via the email link below.
There's a wonderful Job Description for a Library Cat provided by the Spencer Library of Iowa for their long-serving cat Dewey, or 'Dewey Readmore Books' to give him his full name:
Dewey's Job Description
In addition, Dewey produced some rules for library cats:
BASIC RULES FOR CATS WHO HAVE A LIBRARY TO RUN
1. STAFF: If you are feeling particularly lonely and wanting more attention from the staff, sit on whatever papers, project, or computer they happen to be working on at the time - but sit with your back to the person and act aloof, so as not to appear too needy. Also, for maximum effect, be sure to continually rub against the leg of the staff person who is wearing dark brown, blue, or black.
2. PATRONS: No matter how long the patron plans on staying at the library, climb into their briefcase or book-bag for a long, comfortable sleep until they must dump you out on the table in order to leave.
3. LADDERS: Never miss an opportunity to climb on ladders. It does not matter which human is on the ladder. It only matters that you get to the top and stay there.
4. CLOSING TIME: Wait until 10 minutes before closing time to get up from your nap. Just as the staff is getting ready to turn out the lights and lock the door, do all your cutest tricks in an effort to get them to stay and play with you. (Although this doesn't work very often, sometimes they can't resist giving in to one short game of hide-and-seek.)
5. BOXES: Your humans must realise that all boxes which enter the library are yours. It doesn't matter how large, how small, or how full the box should be it is yours! If you cannot fit your entire body into the box, then use whatever part of your body fits to assume ownership for naptime. (I have used one or two paws, my head, or even just my tail to gain entry, and each works equally well for a truly restful sleep.)
6. MEETINGS: No matter the group, timing, or subject matter, if there is a meeting scheduled in the meeting room you have an obligation to attend. If they have shut you out by closing the door, cry pitifully until they let you in or until someone opens the door to use the restroom or get a drink of water. After you gain entry, be sure to go around the room and greet each attendee. If there is a film showing or a slide show, climb on any table close to the screen, settle in and watch the film to conclusion. As the credits roll, feign extreme boredom and leave the meeting before it concludes.
And remember the library cat's golden rule for all time:
"Never forget, nor let humans forget, that you own the joint!"
Wherever you are, if you know of any library cats please contact me,
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He's no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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Page created September 2006, with later revisions