"Not since George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life has someone so lifted the spirits of an entire community. That the 'someone' in this case is, in fact, two library cats makes this true tale of the love of literature combined with a fondness for nose licking all the more magical. This book, like a purring kitten who may also be a genie, should be welcomed into any home."Francesco Marciuliano, New York Times bestselling author of I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats
It all started with mice in the library.
Assistant librarian Jan Louch and a coworker decided that what the library needed was a cat. Or, even better, two cats. Soon, they found a pair of Scottish Folds who were perfect for the job. Jan named them Baker and Taylor, and they took up residence in the library.
But these cats were much more than mousers. Visitors to the library fell in love with Baker and Taylor and their antics just as Jan had. And then, after Jan let the cats be photographed for a poster, they became feline celebrities. Children from across the country wrote them letters, fans traveled from far and wide to meet them, and they became the most famous library cats in the world.
In The True Tails of Baker and Taylor, Jan Louch looks back and tells the remarkable story of these two marvelous cats and the peoplereaders, librarians, and cat lovers of all ageswho came together around them.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
JAN LOUCH worked as Assistant County Librarian/Reference for the Minden branch of the Douglas County Library in Nevada for eighteen years before her retirement in 1997. Her previous jobs have included restaurant chef, nurse’s aide, chamber of commerce manager, and 4-H Club coordinator. She grew up in the Bay Area during the Depression and has lived in Great Britain, Ohio, and New York State. She has lived in the Carson Valley of Nevada since 1969.
Lisa Rogak is the bestselling author of numerous books, including Cats on the Job. She lives in New Hampshire.
Read an Excerpt
The True Tails of Baker and Taylor
The Library Cats who Left their Pawprints on a Small Town ... and the World
By Jan Louch, Lisa Rogak
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Jan Louch and Fat Pencil LLC
All rights reserved.
It was a simple idea, really.
In the early 1980s, Douglas County, Nevada, was desperate for a new library. The population had tripled in the past decade, and we were rapidly running out of room in the old library. New residents and old-timers jostled for space at the reading tables, elbows touching more often than not.
The bookshelves were so crowded that we had to store the fiction collection in the library director's garage a few blocks away. Whenever a patron wanted to check out a novel or short-story collection, instead of taking the book from the stacks he'd hand over a request with a book title scrawled on it, and once a day a staff member would get in her car, head for the garage, gather up all the books requested, and drive them back to the library for the patrons to pick up.
Even though the library only had two full-time employees and one part-timer, our work area was also pretty cramped. We did everything on a big worktable in the back room, from typing index cards for the card catalog to covering and repairing books. We had one typewriter — a manual — between us. The library director, Yvonne Saddler, sat on one side, me on the other, and we'd rotate the typewriter back and forth, depending upon who needed it most.
On that typewriter, I also pecked out an occasional column for the Record-Courier, the local newspaper where I reviewed some of the new books that were on our shelves. The length of the column depended on how much ad space was sold that week. Fewer ads and the editor would lop off the last two books in the column, so I always pushed my favorites to the beginning. The paper had held a contest to name the column and the winning entry was "Read It and Reap." There's nothing I hate more than a bad pun, but it came in first so I had no choice in the matter.
Since I'd started my job as assistant librarian in 1978 at the age of forty-seven, I often had to pinch myself. I'd been addicted to books for as long as I could remember, and I had long dreamed of spending my workdays surrounded by books. Now I was working in a library, as well as helping to plan a new one. We'd received a grant to build a new facility and Yvonne and I started to work with a local architect on the building plans. He knew nothing about libraries and we knew nothing about designing them, but we both started in our respective corners of knowledge and somehow muddled our way through.
We knew what we didn't want: our current building. Douglas County's first library was built in 1967, and 4,600 square feet wasn't much space to fit a small collection of books, reading tables, storage, and our workspace.
What we did want: hmm ... where should we start? We needed a kiosk for new books, a separate room where people could read magazines, this many shelves for fiction, that many for nonfiction, more for biography and reference, and so on. We also had to decide the number of toilet stalls, how to heat the building, and how many chairs and tables we needed for the meeting room. The fact that we actually were going to have a meeting room made Yvonne and me feel quite giddy at times.
We were working long days, but compared to the jobs I'd had in the past, I not only loved going to work but also loved that people actually wanted to hear my ideas and opinions. For the first time in my life, I was making decisions that would affect a lot of people and didn't have to pass them through a whole bunch of higher-ups. And for the time being, making do with such cramped quarters was worth it.
* * *
After several years of planning, the new library finally opened on July 22, 1982. The months building up to the grand opening were some of the most hectic I've ever experienced in my life. Volunteers and staff alike moved all of the books from the old building to the new library, and helped shelve them according to the Dewey decimal system. We also had to move some of the old furniture, but given that the new space was more than twice the size of the old building, we also had to schedule deliveries of new furniture, bookshelves, and equipment, and then set them up.
Not only did we have to move and organize books, furniture, and office equipment, but we also had to arrange books on the shelves and get accustomed to working in a completely new environment. In fact, in order to cut down on the number of books we had to move, we told patrons they could check out as many books as they liked and to keep them until we moved into the new building, and we wouldn't charge them any overdue fines.
The gap between the old library closing and the new one opening was about three weeks, and so when we reopened we were mobbed, because patrons were so eager to check out books again. Both the move and getting settled took a lot out of people, but by the same token it brought us closer together because we all had a common goal: to make our new library the best it could be.
We were totally exhausted, but we were all proud of what we had accomplished. We had a brand-new library and I could look around at something that I'd had a hand in creating.
* * *
The new library had been open for a few weeks when Yvonne and I took a break and headed into the reading room, which looked out onto a patio.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a patch of grass rustle. The winds coming down off the Sierra Nevada Mountains can be so relentless and fierce that the trees lining U.S. 395 — the main highway through town — actually grow at an angle, pointing away from the mountain range. But it wasn't windy that day.
We saw a small gray blur fly past on the patio. A mouse. Then another.
The library had been built on an alfalfa field, and where there's alfalfa, there are mice. Lots of them.
My eyes shifted to Yvonne. "Looks like those mice mean business." I paused. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I'm way ahead of you," she replied. "We do have an obligation to protect the taxpayers' investment." After all, books are bound with glue, which is as irresistible to rodents as catnip is to cats. In fact, in the old library, I once picked up a sponge with two long-dead desiccated mouse carcasses stuck to it. Not one to shriek, I calmly placed it back in the soap dish and dealt with it later.
A bigger library meant more books and glue, and therefore more mice.
"A cat in the library," I said.
"Maybe two," Yvonne volleyed back just as another mouse skittered by.
I nodded. "One cat would get lonely at night and when the library's closed."
"Two cats could keep each other company," said Yvonne.
"Two are better," I said. "After all, there will be lots of new books."
"And we have to protect them."
We stared at the moving grass — upon closer inspection, we discovered that it was actually a kind of mouse highway — and proceeded to hatch the idea that would change both our lives.
* * *
Even though I only had two cats at home and Yvonne had one, the world would probably call us crazy cat ladies. Every year when the Silver State Cat Show was held in Reno, we'd dutifully make the trip and spend a good part of each day oohing and aahing at the different breeds of cats. We were particularly fond of the British shorthairs, a bulky breed with a squarish head and a mouse-gray fur so deep and thick that you could easily bury your fingers in their coats up to the second knuckle.
We liked the breed because we were both fervent Anglophiles, at least when it came to reading material. More than a handful of patrons and librarians from elsewhere had commented on the library's expansive collection of books by British authors. I had lived in the U.K. during the early years of my marriage, and Yvonne had frequently traveled there, so we were well aware that the vast majority of libraries throughout England — both public and even some academic — had a cat or two on the payroll to keep the vermin away, and so did many bookstores.
There were other similarities: we both had gray hair and were close in age — Yvonne was four years older — though I was a bit taller, but there were also significant differences. While I had been working at my dream job for only a few years, Yvonne was a career librarian, and because she served as the face of the library, she was always more put together than I was. People don't realize that working in a library can be a pretty dirty job, between kneeling on the floor to reshelve books, opening scuffed cartons of new books that had been shipped thousands of miles, and leafing through old books covered with a thick layer of dust. So I tended to wear older, occasionally ratty clothes to work while Yvonne was far more stylish and much more professionally dressed so she'd be taken seriously by county commissioners and government officials.
When we attended the cat show in 1982, we took a particular liking to a stocky British shorthair named Tank. He scooched up against the side of his cage and purred like a chain saw while we scratched behind his ears and cooed at him.
As we made our way through the show, we spotted a Scottish Fold, a breed that was new to us. Since we were both part Scottish — Yvonne was Scottish-French-English while I'm Scottish-Italian-English — we were intrigued.
A close relative to the British shorthair, the Scottish Fold had fur that was equally dense, though his eyes were rounder and bigger. And his ears were creased, folded close to his head. The cat looked somewhat like an owl, wise and curious about everything around him. He seemed friendly yet slightly reserved.
We read the information card hanging on the cage, and found out the first Scottish Fold — named Susie — was born near Dundee, Scotland, in 1961. The ear folds are the result of a genetic abnormality that affects not only the ears but also the cartilage all throughout the body. All Scottish Folds are born with straight ears, which "fold" by the time they're a month old; if they don't fold by that time, they won't fold at all. If they do fold, they can be single — which creases halfway — or a double or triple fold, which are much closer to the head. In the case of a triple fold, the ears almost touch the skull.
As we did with Tank, we scratched and cooed and daydreamed of bringing this owlish cat home with us, but we knew that the current feline residents at our respective homes wouldn't stand for another addition. But maybe there'd be a place at the library?
Purebreds were a bit of an anomaly for Douglas County and the Carson Valley — the region south of Reno and east of Lake Tahoe — in the early 1980s, where the vast majority of cats lived in the barns of the many cattle ranches and dairy farms that dotted the area. Though they interacted with humans, most of the cats were borderline feral; they'd approach you with great hesitation if you offered a can of tuna or handful of kibble, but for the most part they kept their distance.
I lived on my parents' ranch with my children in the tiny town of Genoa — the first settled town in Nevada and one town over from Minden — and even though we had barn cats, we also kept a couple of well-loved house cats named Big and Little who lived in the lap of luxury inside.
The local hardware store had a resident orange tabby cat who spent his days sleeping in a coiled-up rubber hose in the front display window, which I thought set a good precedent for us getting a cat for the library. He was there for years and nobody had any problem with him. There'd also been cats in other businesses in town, including the florist shop.
Once we made the decision to add a couple of feline employees to our staff, we figured that the library board didn't have to know about it. After all, we'd be the ones who would be taking care of the cats and covering all of their expenses.
But first we had to overcome one small obstacle: money. As librarians working in a small rural county, we weren't exactly rolling in it. And we also couldn't ask taxpayers to cover the cost.
So while Yvonne and I saved our pennies, we started to think about names that would be appropriate for a pair of felines who lived in a library. We briefly considered Dewey and Decimal but we already knew of several library cats with those names. Another short-lived idea was Volume I and Volume II, but thankfully neither of us took that one seriously.
"How about Page?" Yvonne offered.
I shook my head. "The second cat would have to be named Turn, or Cover. For that matter, I think we can forget about Hardcover and Paperback."
We tossed a few other ideas back and forth but nothing clicked. I pondered some more as I began to unpack the boxes of new books that had arrived that morning. As I opened the first box, that's when it hit me.
Baker & Taylor — the name of the library wholesaler that shipped the vast majority of books to the library — was stamped all over the box. I had emptied countless Baker & Taylor boxes in my day before cataloging and shelving new books. More important, the names seemed to fit a breed of cat with folded ears who looked like owls.
I tested the names out in my head. "Baker, dinnertime! Taylor, I bought you a new catnip mouse!"
I passed it by Yvonne, and she agreed.
Baker and Taylor it would be.CHAPTER 2
We contacted a Scottish Fold breeder from the cat show, who told us she had a gray and white male with a slightly abnormal spine, so he couldn't compete in any cat shows, but that he'd make a perfectly capable library cat. She added that he was pretty calm but also loved people.
He sounded like a good fit. Since we first made our decision, Yvonne and I had drawn up a list of characteristics for our ideal library cat: in addition to having a superb talent at mousing, he had to be mellow in the face of squealing, sticky-fingered toddlers at story time, and gregarious enough to deal with teenagers and adults who loved cats so much they might pursue him around the library in order to get in a few pats and ear scratches.
The breeder told us she'd let us have him at a discount: ninety bucks. From our years going to the cat show, we knew that exotic breeds were more expensive, and since Scottish Folds were still relatively rare in the U.S., most cats cost several hundred dollars or more, which was a lot of money at the time for a couple of county government employees. He would come already neutered, which would save us even more money.
The breeder set the delivery date for March 10, 1983, and we got busy. We bought toys, cat food, bowls for food and water, and a litter box, which we put in the storage closet to provide adequate privacy. I was glad we had decided, when we were planning the new library, to put the storage closet in the staff room instead of in the meeting room, which wouldn't always be open.
The day finally came when he was due to arrive.
"How'd you sleep last night?" Yvonne asked.
I pointed at the dark circles under my eyes.
We couldn't focus on stamping books, and while doing research for a patron, I ended up reading the same sentence for fifteen minutes before I finally gave up.
Finally, a little before noon, a woman walked through the door with a cat carrier.
We all rushed toward the front of the library. The breeder set the carrier on the floor, unlatched the door, and we all peered inside. The cat blinked and took a couple of steps forward so he was half in and half out of the carrier. He sniffed the air, took another few steps, and suddenly a plethora of arms all reached toward him.
He stood calmly as we all started to pet him at once. We showed him the location of his food and water bowls and litter box, and then tried to let him be. That plan lasted for all of two seconds as a small crowd of librarians and patrons proceeded to follow him around for the rest of the day. I don't have to tell you that very little work got done.
While the others were fawning all over him, I looked at his registration papers.
Birthdate: October 6, 1981.
Name: McLean's Clint Eastwood.
I don't think so. This cat was far from having a lean and hungry look. In fact, he was the epitome of roundness: round head and body, round eyes, and with the same ultraplush fur that Tank had.
Excerpted from The True Tails of Baker and Taylor by Jan Louch, Lisa Rogak. Copyright © 2016 Jan Louch and Fat Pencil LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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