Wesleyan's Library Cats

When you visit Wesleyan's Willet Memorial Library, you'll be greeted by Libris, our official library cat. He bears a striking resemblance to Squeakers, the first Willet Memorial Library Cat-in-residence, who passed away in 2008. If you visited our library at any time between 1985 and 2008, then you probably met Squeakers personally. Willet’s very own Squeakers resided on Wesleyan College’s campus for some twenty years. She called the library home for the last nine years where she spent much of her time near the entrance greeting patrons.

Modern working cats like Libris and Squeakers inspire a great deal of reading. Library cats have been around for centuries, and currently greet patrons in almost 150 libraries across the country. Worldwide, 697 cats have been recorded as official library cats. Of the 573 on record in the US, 383 have passed away after serving their institutions well, 32 are permanent cats-in-residence, 22 have been immortalized as statues, five are virtual eCats, four are stuffed mascots, and one haunts a reference room as a ghost. All can be reached by email.

Library cats have appeared as characters in books and films. One award winning video by Gary Roma, Puss in Books: Adventures of a Library Cat, explores the lifestyles of cats who roam the stacks, curl up in library users’ laps, and sleep on circulation desks. Some, like Kinky at the Kilbourn Public Library in Wisconsin, are deployed in rodent patrol. Others, like Dewey Readmore Books at the Spencer Public Library in Iowa, enjoy high profile professional roles of marketing and public relations. In short, the modern working cat plays a pivotal role in efforts to increase literacy awareness. Washington’s Ocean Shores Library created its cat-in-residence position in 1999 after a survey revealed that 98 percent of the patrons favored a furry staff member.

Roma, a Massachusetts-based documentary filmmaker, also designed and maintains a website devoted to library cats around the world (www.ironfrog.com/catsmap). According to the site, library cats have been found in every state except Wyoming, South Dakota, and Delaware. While there are no known library cats in the Middle East and South America, Japan and Russia have their own, as do a number of European countries including Croatia, Latvia, Italy, Hungary, and The Netherlands.

Reggie, cat-in-residence at the Bryant Public Library in Sauk, Minnesota inspired librarian Phyllis Lahti to found The Library Cat Society in 1987. Dozens of member libraries exchange information on their cats, most of whom were abandoned in parking lots or dumped in book-return chutes. According to the society’s newsletter, the mission is to advocate the establishment of cats in libraries and recognize the need to respect and to care for library cats. Lahti also authored the anthology Cats, Librarians, and Libraries: Essays for and About the Library Cat Society.

Iowa’s Dewey Readmore Books gives Dr. Seuss a run for the money, ranking as a national celebrity. The acting debut in Puss in Books landed him a spot as Mr. January in a national pin-up cat calendar plus a mention on nationally syndicated radio by broadcaster Paul Harvey, and as the subject of two book chapters—he has his own Library of Congress listing.

Through requests for birthday party appearances, stacks of fan mail and greeting cards, and designated web pages library cats receive well-earned respect and notoriety. Job responsibilities worldwide vary, but typically the role includes: rodent control, counseling, purveyor of book reviews, and companionship. On the whole, library cats garner the most press for positive literary interactions, although paparazzi have also shed light on some unfortunate professional episodes. L.C.for instance, a library cat-in-residence at the Escondido Public Library in California, was named in a 2001 $1.5 million claim by Richard Espinosa against the City of Escondido for “lasting physical and emotional injury.” According to Espinosa, L.C. attacked his assistance dog, which was charged with protecting him against panic attacks. Ultimately, the claim was dismissed as frivolous; but L.C. was forced into early retirement and died in October of 2003.