Cats and books seem to belong together, like bacon and eggs, or wine and cheese. Medieval monks knew that a cat in the monastery library would keep away rats that ate valuable manuscripts, candles, and anything else they could find. In the 18th century, Russian Empress Elizabeth ordered cats transported to her Winter Palace library so they could kill the rats there. Many modern libraries have welcomed cats into their bookish domains and in 1987 an official Library Cat Society (now defunct) was established to encourage the establishment and recognition of library cats.
There are many positives to the plan of keeping a cat in a library. Cats befriend patrons, boost the morale of librarians, attract children to the library, and generate publicity for their libraries, especially on social media. Libraries have traditionally encouraged silence, and cats are quiet creatures, and are low maintenance.
Not everyone likes the idea, however. People with cat allergies are against cats in such public spaces, while others have complained that their ‘service animals’ (such as guide dogs) are upset by finding cats in libraries. But when the Putnam Valley, New York, library removed the cat from its institution, the local community was decidedly upset. Two future benefactors removed the library from their wills as a result. Library cats can also trigger alarm systems if left alone in the building at night.
Dewey was dumped in a book return bin, but was rapidly embraced by library staff and the public, and spent the rest of his life promoting reading. Books were published about Dewey (he died in 2008) and the joy he had brought to library patrons. The 1997 film Puss in Books: The Adventures of a Library Cat was a charming movie about various library cats around America. The cats featured have delightful titles – The Boss, Librarian in Charge of Rodent Control, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, Library Mascot, and Library King. Some of them have wonderfully bookish names: Stacks, Pages, Browser, Libris, Bibliocat, and Homer are some examples.
Resident library cats demand a managerial role and for their status to be officially recognised by staff and visitors alike. The role can be a demanding one, requiring supervision of the premises from strategic vantage points (generally up high), ensuring books retain that ‘book aroma’, and customer relations (accepting pats from patrons). The position attracts a salary in the form of regular meals and sunny corners.