The Tradition of Library Cats

There are few things better than a good, old bookshop. 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 they love to walk through and just relax.

Imagine, now, that your favorite bookstore 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 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!).

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.

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

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. 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.

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.

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.

Stacks the library cat checks out the front desk.

Stacks the library cat checks out the front desk.

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

Library Cat contemplating the library in Scotland.

Library Cat contemplating the library in Scotland.

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.

Kuzya the Russian library cat.

Kuzya the Russian library cat.

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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