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Library Cats

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Library, University of Idaho. Main reading room. [201-26]
Library, University of Idaho. Main reading room. [201-26]

“Puss in Books” might be an appropriate title for this image of a pussycat napping in the midst of a large group of male students taking a special exam in the library’s main reading room a half-century ago. Librarian Richard C. Beck, now retired, reminisced about the era of library cats in his addendum to R. D. Hook’s “The University of Idaho Library: A History” (1986):

Some old timers tell stories about the cats in the library. Lee (Zimmerman, Head Librarian) was an officer in the American Feline Society. He and Rhoda had several cats at home, and people sometimes left stray cats on their doorstep. There were cats in the library too, but they were not Lee’s cats.

They belonged to a campus character named Gotfred (Fred) August Skog of Stillwater, Minnesota. He had worked on the construction of the Administration Building in 1907, and President Maclean kept him on as janitor. He stayed on to become an integral part of the University, much beloved by students. He earned the honorary title of “Dean” from the students and retired in 1952 as Head Janitor, Emeritus.

He had the cats in the basement to catch mice, but Lee had holes made into the wall so they could come into the library if they wanted. So staff would come to work and find cats on their desks and elsewhere. Periodicals Librarian Louise Slade got pretty upset when the cats did their business on her piles of newspapers, and Cataloger Stan Shepard got in “trouble” when he tried to throw the cats out of the library.

The cats, along with the card catalogs, are long gone. The new book stands, however, are still with us and in use today. And the library still has mice.

Written in 1998 for the UI Library’s Digital Memories website.

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