Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: Dewey: A Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron




Dewey : a small-town library cat who who touched the world
Vicki Myron
© 2008
Grand Central Pub.
265p

In honor of National Cat Day I'm going to do my review of Dewey: A Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World which I read nearly two weeks ago. The book had to go back to the library before I could do the review and I haven't sent for it again yet so I'm going to go by memory with a little help from online sources for facts like names and dates.

The story of Dewey is co-written by Vicki Myron the head librarian at the Spencer Iowa library where Dewey was found one bitterly cold morning in January 1988 in the overnight drop box. Judged later by a vet to be approximately 6 weeks old, he was so cold his shivering created an alarming noise inside the metal box the staff was preparing to unload. He was huddled in a corner under an avalanche of books and the outside slot had been jammed open by a book.

Vicki picked him up and he looked into her eyes and began purring. Her heart was immediately won and it wasn't long before the hearts of many in the town of Spencer, then going through the tough farming crisis of the 1980s were won as well. The library board and then the town council agreed to allow Dewey to live in the library as The Library Cat, his duties to include lowering the stress of those willing to lend their laps for one of his naps and acting as ambassador for the library at every meeting held in the library's conference room as well as general public relations.

A naming contest was held among the library patrons and Dewey Readmore Books was settled on. Dewey did his job so well that visits to the library increased from 60K per year to over 100K and Dewey and the Spencer library became famous worldwide. Families from all over the states put the library on their vacation itinerary in order to meet Dewey and have their picture taken with him. He was featured in many cat magazines, library journals and at least two documentaries over his 19 years at the library and his death in November 2006 was mourned around the world, evidenced by the over 200 media carrying his obituary.

Interspersed with the story of Dewey from his kittenish antics (rubber band bandit) to his adult escapades (his encounter with a bat and his one great escape) are the stories of the town of Spencer and of Vicki's own journey to her position as librarian. The main thrust of the story is the effect Dewey had on the morale of the town during the hard times as farmers went into bankruptcy and manufacturing jobs absconded.

Told this way the story is also an ode to libraries and the role they play in communities today. They are no longer (if they every were) the stuffy book mausoleums depicted in so much literature and movies over the decades. Speaking of which: The book became a best seller soon after it's release and soon after that rumors abounded about a movie deal in the works with Meryl Streep in the role of Vicki. Such rumors seem to be confirmed by the story in the Spencer newspaper last April of screenwriter Pamela Gray's visit to Spencer to interview those who knew Dewey and see the sites of his antics and escapades. All I can say is, Hollywood better do right by the modern image of the library. Because if they don't they could damage efforts all over the country in small communities to keep their libraries open and staffed and stocked.

And yes, because of my own experience with the library closures in Southern Oregon in 2007, this story touched me personally not only because of my own love of cats and libraries but because of the way the role of the library in a community was depicted and how this justifies keeping them open and properly funded even--most especially--in the hard times.

There's a bio of Dewey at the Spencer library website.

They also have a spread of photos of Dewey

The Spencer Friends of the Library sell postcards featuring Dewey and the funds are used for library items and functions not covered by the budget.

And Dewey has a Facebook page!



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