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Originally published Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Ocean Shores library cats are purr-fect for the job

Long before "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World," became a best-selling book and soon a movie, the Ocean Shores Library Board voted in favor of adding library staffers with fur. Since then, cats have found a place in the small community's library in Grays Harbor County.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Ocean Shores library cats

OCEAN SHORES, Grays Harbor County — The patron was reading about ways to restore his cream-colored convertible when Waldo, always the vigilant library staffer, climbed onto the table to lend assistance.

Dave Ludlow was lost in reverie, thinking of the time when his Buick cruised the two-lane highways along the Washington coast. Waldo studied the book, the ceiling, then succumbed to an urge, washing between his toes.

Long before "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World," became a best-selling book and soon a Meryl Streep movie, the Ocean Shores Public Library board voted to add library staffers with fur.

Since then, cats have found a place in the small community's library, creating an atmosphere that patrons say draws the community together, encourages children to settle down and read, brings out the gentler side in even the most difficult teen, and has the side benefit of being one of the most effective marketing strategies around.

For Ludlow, it's just part of the charm of his hometown library and what makes it more than a collection of periodicals and books.

"Hi, kitty!" Ludlow said as he was leaving. He paused to scratch Waldo's head. "I'm a kitty lover."

There are 700 library cats in the U.S., a number that keeps growing, said Gary Roma, who produced "Puss and Books," a film about library cats that 10 years ago gave Ocean Shores library technician Michelle Olson the idea.

At that time, there were only about 125 library cats in the country, Roma said. But libraries have found that having cats around increases patrons' use and their satisfaction with the library, so the number keeps growing despite the occasional complaints from patrons with allergies.

Complaints, too

Booker was the resident cat at the Seattle Public Library's Rainier Beach branch from 1990 until his death in 2001. He was only 8 weeks old when a library staffer found him wandering along a busy highway. He was brought into the library, where he touched everyone.

"Mostly, he is loved, adored, admired and fussed-over," wrote children's librarian Kate Pappas when Olson asked about the branch's experience as she researched getting a cat for Ocean Shores.

"We are always getting compliments about him. However, we also get complaints about him."

People who were allergic, phobic or just didn't like cats protested, but the library's air-filtering system and the staff's willingness to lock the cat in a backroom when patrons objected seemed to override most complaints, she wrote.

At the Timberland Regional Library in Hoodsport, Mason County, Marian was the reigning library cat for seven years until her retirement last summer to the home of a staffer.

Marian came to the library after a family was giving away kittens at the local grocery, said library manager Nancy Triplett. Marian would walk down rows of books, swatting them with her paw as if to say, "read that, read that, read that."

Sometimes, the cats just show up at the library, which is what happened in Spencer, Iowa, in 1988.

On a frigid January night, someone dropped a tiny yellow kitten in the book-deposit slot. The frostbitten kitten that librarian Vicki Myron rescued became known as Dewey Readmore Books and lived 19 years in the library before his death in 2006.

Myron credits Dewey with making life a bit friendlier for down-and-out farmers who came to the library to fill out résumés for the first time in their lives.

"A good library is less an institution than a home," as Myron says on her Web site. "It has comfortable seats, desks, computers, friendly people and, yes, sometimes even a cat."

Cats, books go together

Ocean Shores adopted its first cat in 1999. At the time, Olson was at a conference and saw Roma's film. She was intrigued and her boss, librarian Judy Stull, encouraged her to survey patrons and then ask the Library Board.

So she posed the question and 213 patrons responded; all but two were in favor of adopting a cat for the library. It just seemed that cats and books went together.

The board gave its OK as well, and someone even had a calico kitten that needed a home.

A fund for cat food and supplies was set up so no public money would be spent.

The public suggested names for the new recruit, who was called Trixie, after the Trixie Belden detective novels.

For five years, Trixie charmed Ocean Shores, greeting visitors, even pushing the library into the international spotlight when a news team from Japan visited.

But one day, Olson came to work and found Trixie dead. The town grieved and Stull said no more cats. The pain of the loss was too great.

Then slowly, the pressure from people in town and the staff increased. About two years later, Olson went to the local animal shelter, where two cats seemed especially friendly.

Now known as Waldo and Olivia, from children's books, they live in the library full time. Waldo is a svelte young gray male with amber eyes and Olivia is a portly black female.

"In a sense the whole community gets to have these cats," Olson said. At Christmas, Waldo and Olivia get cards. Their images were on fundraising book bags and may be on prizes to give to children who read the most books.

Small treats

On a drizzling winter day in midweek, the Ocean Shores Library is busy. There are older patrons and mothers with children. Waldo saunters past and the connection between two women who don't know each other is quickly made. They begin to talk as they toss Waldo small treats.

Marlena Coenen, 20, fills out a job application online as Olivia snoozes in a chair behind her.

Coenen could fill out the application at home, but she chooses to do it at the library because it's homey and relaxed.

Even with Olivia sleeping and Waldo looking bored as he perched on top of the checkout counter, "I think they're wonderful," she says. "They add so much. I couldn't imagine a library without them."

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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