The Tradition of Library Cats

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There are few things better than a good, old bookshop or library. For readers and book lovers walking through dusty stacks of new and old books is a special experience, and many people have that favorite bookstore or library they love to walk through and just relax.

Imagine, now, that your favorite library has a fluffy mascot who peruses the shelves with you, popping in and out of the maze of books and occasionally falling asleep in a well-placed sunbeam.

The addition of feline friends to some libraries and bookstores around the world is a time-honored tradition benefitting the owners of the bookstores, the attention-loving kitties, and customers as well (the local mouse population might not be such big fans, though!).

Edward Penfield.  Self portrait.  Image: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1898, public domain.
Edward Penfield. Self portrait. Image: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1898, public domain.

The Tradition of Library Cats Dates Back to Ancient Egypt

The practice of having cats in libraries began in ancient Egypt where cats were domesticated. Cats meandered their ways through the libraries of ancient Egyptian temples and were trained to keep rodents away from the fragile manuscripts.

During the Middle Ages cats kept rats and mice out of castles, homes and libraries, and modern day library cats serve the same functions in addition to bringing a smile to customers’ faces.

Cats and Independent Bookstores

While you won’t find a friendly neighborhood library cat in your nearby Barnes and Noble, many independent bookstores add character and charm to their establishments with cats that are pets of the owners or have established themselves in the shop on their own.

Edward Penfield, his book. C. 1900 ~ 1925.  Image: Library of Congress, public domain
Edward Penfield, his book. C. 1900 ~ 1925. Image: Library of Congress, public domain

Some bookstore cats worldwide simply wandered in one day and never left- sounds like a typical cat!

Library Cats Help Patrons

There are benefits to library cats that a lot of people don’t know. Cats and other pets help kids who are hesitant about reading to themselves or out loud relax; young students have a friendly feline face to read to instead of an intimidating group of their peers or their parents.

Cat sitting on a bookshelf
Cat sitting on a bookshelf. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Cats make the environments of bookstores and libraries fun and, due to their independent personalities, are able to come and go without disturbing those who don’t want to be bothered.

Unfortunately some people are very allergic to cats which can minimize their enjoyment and impact.

How Many Library Cats are There?

Libraries and bookstores around the world report about 302 library cats currently in residence as permanent or temporary members.

The record of library cats has been documented in books and organizations attempt to keep track of the number of library cats in residence in certain countries.

The United States reports the highest number of library cats, while Iceland reports just one special feline companion.

Famous US Library Cats

Some famous library cats you can visit around the United States include Ernie in Virginia, a polydactyl (six-toed) cat named after Ernest Hemingway.

Stacks the cat lives in the Litchfield Public Library in Illinois after being adopted from a local animal shelter. After eating all the mice in the library she now accompanies library patrons on their literary journeys.

Elsie lived in the city of Saint Helena, California and, like Stacks, was adopted and helped rid the St. Helena Public Library of mice before resigning herself to a life of snuggles. The St. Helena library is open to all people and their pets, and Elsie gets along with them all.

Dewey Readmore Books

Dewey is a library cat who hails from the sleep town of Spencer, Illinois. In the grand tradition of a true rags-to-riches story, an abandoned kitten inspires a town and brings to life a library in the middle of America’s heartland. Or, that’s what the storybooks say, anyways!

Dewey was abandoned in Spencer in the 1980s during the height of a financial crisis that had left the town and surrounding regions devastated economically. Vicki Myron found the small kitten in the night drop box of the library huddling for warmth and took him in. The kitten was named Dewey in honor of the decimal system used to classify books in libraries where paperbacks reign supreme. Dewey soon caught the attention of the local residents and library patrons, who would drop by just to see the friendly cat and take a quick break with the latest page turner.

Dewey became the kind of library cat that inspired not only Vicki Myron, who found him, but to everyone who came into contact with the fuzzy bundle of personality. Dewey was known for strutting about the library like he owned the place but never failing to stop for a person or creature that needed a little extra love and attention.

Dewey became the hit of a television documentary in Japan and is now the star of a series of books. “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World(affiliate link)was released in 2008 and features a collection of stories written by Vicki Myron about Dewey and his library antics. The book also features stories by other individuals around the country who have been blessed by the appearance of cats at just the right time.

A book was published about Dewey the Library Cat.
A book was published about Dewey the Library Cat called “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World(affiliate link)

Dewey is also the star of a children’s book called Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library! (affiliate link). Cuddle up with your favorite pet and read all about Dewey and his adventures in Spencer, Illinois’ library.

Miko the Library Cat

University is a tough time for many students, especially around exam times. For students with extra stressful essays to write or who are working through the seemingly endless slog of a thesis or dissertation, having a pet to curl up with while working can be extremely beneficial. Cats and other pets are known to reduce stress and increase productivity and understanding of information, something many students appreciate!

Not all university students can have pets or have friends whose pets they can borrow, but some are luckier. Students at Texas A&M University have Miko, the unofficial mascot of the university’s libraries. Miko has been living in the Medical Sciences Library where she keeps students company, patrols the stacks of books, and terrorizes the local mouse population.

Miko’s efforts in the library have garnered her the role of Pest Control Specialist and inspiration for the university’s literacy campaign. Her face graces the cover of literacy campaign posters and postcards, which are featured in the Medical Sciences library. Miko can often be found curled up next to a heater on some of the chillier days at the university, or on top of a stack of books. You didn’t really need to read any of those, did you?

Students at Texas A&M have created a Facebook page for Miko which is regularly updated with pictures and messages about her adventures. Miko continues to inspire students to work towards their goals and promote literacy in their greater community. Many students have posters of Miko hanging on their walls, so they can always remember their unofficial mascot even when they can’t be in the library themselves.

Other cute, cuddly and wonderful library cats are sprinkled around the United States. Is there one near you?

International Library Cats

We can’t forget our feline book buddies in other parts of the world, either! Here are two cats hailing from Russia and Scotland who have captured the imaginations of library patrons as well as their nations.

In Scotland you can find Library Cat, a friendly but cautious kitty who wanders the floors of the University of Edinburgh’s Central Library. He enjoys the attention of the library patrons and has a strong presence on social media, touting his tales throughout the literary ages. If you find yourself in the Central Library in Scotland you might just catch a glimpse (or, if you’re lucky, get a little cat lap warmer!) of Library Cat.

Finally we have Kuzya, a much-loved library cat from Russia. He lives in the town of Novorrossiysk and appeared at the library one day, slowly but surely warming the hearts and laps of the library workers and patrons. In Russia pets have to have a special permit to be allowed to live in a public space like a library, but Kuzya eventually got his own cat passport (because Russia) and eventually rose to the rank of assistant librarian. Now the snuggly library cat turns up to work with a bow tie befitting of his title and stature as one of Russia’s most beloved literary felines.

A Temporary Library Cat

Some cats are library cats by accidents, and others are library cats by fate. Some stay forever, and others drift out just as they drifted in. In the case of Rosie the cat, adventures were had far beyond what she or her owners anticipated!

Rosie was a typical cat living in Long Island, New York. She had a cushy job as a lap warmer and companion, but had an extra enjoyable life as a cat that got to live on a fish farm. Stephanie Villani and her husband lived on a fish farm where they would grow and collect fish to take to local farmer’s markets around the greater New York City area. One day Rosie hopped in the back of the fish truck (likely drawn by that delightful fishy smell!) and was taken to a farmer’s market in Brooklyn with a usual shipment of fresh fish for sale. No one noticed her get into the truck or get out when they arrived in Brooklyn.

Rosie was eventually found wandering the streets of Brooklyn and was taken in by the staff at the Brooklyn Public Library. She spent her days being fed and cared for by the employees and patrons of the library, who welcomed their new feline friend with open arms. Rosie became a much loved member of the library and also helped keep the mouse population around the building down.

Rosie was taken to the vet for a routine checkup when her microchip was found. Stephanie Villani had waited eight long months to hear any word about her cat and was overjoyed to hear that she had been found and cared for in Brooklyn. Rosie made her transition back into the life of a fish farm cat, happy with her stint as a librarian in Brooklyn.

Rosie’s story just goes to show that any cat can become a library cat, no matter where they come from.

More: Cat Abandons Fish Truck for Brooklyn Public Library

Next time you wander into your local bookstore, look for a library cat! As our library cat profiles have shown, you never know when one might just turn up out of the blue and make itself at home.

References:

Iron Frog Productions. Web access 14 February 2015. http://www.ironfrog.com/catsmap.html

Miss Celliana. 10 Cats Who Live in Libraries. 19 September 2013. Web access 14 February 2015. http://mentalfloss.com/article/52810/10-cats-who-live-library

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