His story began on a cold January morning in 1988. Library Director Vicki Myron unlocked the library door in Spencer, Iowa to begin the day. As she brewed a pot of coffee, she and another library staff member heard a sound from the back room. As they walked closer to the book drop, they heard the sound again. When Myron opened the lid, she found a haggard-looking yellow kitten huddled among the hardback books.
Myron gently lifted the kitten from the bin. “The pads of his little feet were frozen,” she recalls. “We gave him a bath just to warm him up and he purred the whole time.” The librarians adopted the little guy and after inviting locals to help name the kitty, named him Dewey Readmore Books. Named after the Dewey Decimal System used in public libraries to catalog books, Dewey began his life as the Library Cat. “His story has a life of its own,” explains Myron while sifting through the cat’s fan mail. “We had people drive hundreds of miles out of their way just to see Dewey. We had a Japanese public television crew come here (to Spencer).”
Dewey lived a charmed life at the Spencer Public Library. Patrons took to him quickly, and over time, visitors increased from 60,000 a year to more than 100,000. Many were suffering from the crippling economy during a time that hit the farming community especially hard, and Myron thinks Dewey lifted their spirits and made them a bit more eager to stop off at the library. Two of Dewey's favorite people were two homeless men who visited the library just to see the library cat. "They never spoke to us, but they would pick up Dewey and talk to him for 20 minutes. I don't know what they said. It didn't seem to matter, but it made them feel better," says Myron.
The long-haired orange tabby was a local favorite but became an international celebrity. He was Mr. January in a national cat calendar. Famous broadcaster Paul Harvey mention the cat in his radio show and there was an article in Postcard Collector magazine featuring four postcard poses that were used as a library fundraiser.
The tabby visited with patrons, ran up stairs and jumped on library stacks for 19 years. He passed away quietly in Myron's arms in December 2006. Myron retired a year later and decided to share Dewey's story with the world. Her book, "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World" was released this past October. "We're expecting it to be on the best-seller list," says Melissa Bullock, publicist at Grand Central Publishing, formerly Warner Books. Myron, along with ghost writer Bret Witter, used her research skills to weave an intimate historical portrait of Spencer, Iowa and to tell the tale of the little kitty with the frozen paws.
Dewey was one of 125 library cats that greet patrons in libraries across America. Previously used as rodent patrol, they now are expected to "act charming and make the library a welcoming and homey place."
Myron fondly remembers how Dewey greeted her each morning by waving a paw. He added warmth and friendliness. Following his passing, Dewey's obituary appeared in hundreds of newspapers around the country, including The New York Times. "It shows the impact Dewey had on people's lives," she says. The new author hopes to begin publishing a series of children's books about Dewey within the next two years. "As I say in the book, Dewey changed lives one lap at a time."