Preview of Coming Attractions

Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Round Lake Public Library, Illinois: One Handed Typing

For centuries, cats were banished to barns and backyards, rarely invited to the hearth. As our relationship has changed, we have gladly welcomed cats into our homes (and our beds.) But what about bringing them to work? (And I’m not talking about tele-commuting!)

Challenging, to be sure, but the rewards bring humor and humanity into the workplace.

Felines Paige, Turner and MisterE (mystery) were not readily welcomed into the staff rooms of the Round Lake Public library, as the reference librarian put it, “As long as I’m not expected to kiss them, I can pretty much ignore them.”

Another staffer quipped, “I am not a cat person. I am a dog person. I don’t have anything against them, but I would never have a cat in my home.” This said as she rubs and ruffles an enthralled Paige, who purrs and rolls in response to the expert touch.

“I can’t have cats at home, because my kids are allergic, but their allergies are low-level, so they love coming to work with me and having a chance to play with the cats. They wouldn’t have any other opportunity to have that relationship.” Another staffer chimes in.

“Our assistant director loves cats too, but his wife is allergic, so this is where he gets to enjoy cats.” Explains Elizabeth Crane, the library director. "And the rest of us just love them. They give the staff something to discuss, when one of the cats is doing something especially cute, intranet emails will fly around the building alerting the staff not to miss the moment. We swap anecdotes about the cats. And when someone is having a bad day, spending a few minutes with the cats provides private comfort. That’s why their official job is Staff Morale Boosters.”

Across the country, there are cats in public, private and university libraries. A cat’s exquisite silence makes it the perfect resident among rows and rows of quiet books. But not all library directors or their boards agree. Usually the presence of a cat tells you a lot about the library director, who truly decides the cat’s fate.

In some libraries the cats are free to roam the entire building. “We considered letting the cats spend time in the circulation area, we were going to attach a magnetic strip on their collars to trip the sensors if they wandered out or someone tried to take them.” But Elizabeth and her colleagues shared concerns about public complaints and allergies—along with all of the other logistics involved. Ultimately they decided it would be best to keep the cats in the staff rooms, though they do come out to visit for special events.

The first cat, Paige, was found outside the library by the President of the local Friends of the Library organization. Just a tiny kitten, she melted the hearts of the cat loving librarians. “Can we keep her, please?” They implored their new director (Elizabetth had only been on the job for two days!) Friends of the Library offered to cover all the food, litter and veterinary expenses for the cat.

Elizabeths response: “Okay, but if we are going to keep her, then we have to get another, because I believe cats belong in pairs.”

Enter Turner.

Things went so well that a third homeless kitten was added months later, the lovable MisterE.

Vertical scratching posts hang from office doors, an enormous cat tree dominates the staff entrance. Cat toys are scattered about and whenever MisterE poops there is a scramble to remove his potent, fuming solids from the litterbox.

"We’ve all learned to type one handed when one of the cats wants to be held.” Elizabeth laughs.

A cat’s position in the library lacks long-term security, a change in library directors can predicate a change in policy. Usually, one of the cat loving staff will end up adopting the feline residents.

At one library in New England, the controversy over the library cat became so heated that a major donor threatened to revoke her pledge of over a million dollars if the cat was removed from the library (clearly a dedicated cat lover!). A handful of citizens insisted that the cat be removed from public property.

Battle lines for and against the cat were drawn around town. After a court ruling , the cat was rehomed and the library lost its fuzzy companion, as well as a significant donation.

Imagine a culture where the comings and goings of cats are embraced. Where the prevailing ethic combines aesthetic appreciation for the cat and increased compassion for their well-being. An office cat, a store cat, a library cat, they all challenge the sterility of the workplace and perhaps that is good.

If the staff accepts the cats, does that change the dynamics of office politics? One librarian at Round Lake said, “I don’t really like cats, but these guys arrived as babies and who can resist a baby. I fell in love with them as babies and I still love them now.”

Wow! Love in the workplace, the ability to open hearts without threat of sexual misconduct. Out of 42 staff members at Round Lake, the vast majority cherishes the presence of Paige, Turner and MisterE.

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