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Dewey Readmore Books
of Spencer Library, Iowa
Dewey's unusual arrival
Spencer is a town with a population of about 12,000 in the American Midwest state of Iowa. For nearly 20 years it was home to the best-known of American library cats Dewey, or to give him his full title Dewey Readmore Books. He arrived on a freezing cold January night in 1988, via the book-return chute. Library staff, finding him next morning after hearing his whimpering, and having warmed him up while he purred the whole time, decided they would like to adopt him as library cat. The idea was approved by the board of trustees and the city council, so he was neutered and vaccinated and became the new resident. He quickly made friends among the library staff and patrons, and also the wider public, some from a long way off, as they learned of his story. Donations were made for his food, and he received 'city employee discount' from a local veterinarian when medical attention was needed.
Life at the library
Dewey blossomed into a magnificent cat, as can be seen from his 'official' portrait (right), taken when he was about 2 years old. Over the years he provided Spencer Library with plenty of publicity via the local newspaper, national magazines, in books, on postcards and on Sioux City TV. He was also the star of a video about library cats, Puss in Books: Adventures of a Library Cat (1997), and his fame spread throughout America and beyond, especially after he was chosen as 'January cat' on a nationwide calendar. The library maintains a bio page for Dewey, and also a slideshow of images. (See more Dewey links below to his website, videos and various news articles.)
Throughout his long life Dewey loved 'his public'. He greeted patrons at the front desk, regularly attended every library meeting, and even enjoyed functions such as summer family fun evenings in the presence of 250 people or more. He hated it when the library was closed, and would welcome Vicki Myron, library director and his principal carer, with a 'wave' in the mornings when she arrived. Staff kept a camera handy to record his antics and adventures over the years.
In the final year or so of his life his age began to take its toll, said Vicki. He became very thin, had arthritis in his hips and back, and of course slept more than he used to; he was diagnosed also as having hypothyroidism, which added to his frailty. People were asked to pet him only on the head and shoulders, and not to pick him up; however, he still carried out all his duties and was as friendly as ever. Curiously, with old age came a taste for non-cat food, especially cheeseburgers and roast-beef sandwiches!
A passing and a tribute
The library and its patrons were hoping that Dewey, their cat with the huge personality, might be around for a bit longer and perhaps reach the age of 20, but it was not to be. He had his 'official' nineteenth birthday a grand age for a cat on 18 November 2006; but shortly afterwards started behaving in an uncharacteristic way by hiding away. An X-ray showed that he had a stomach tumour. Added to his other ailments and bearing in mind that his quality of life seemed much diminished and he was likely to be in pain, it was felt kinder to let him go. It fell to his greatest pal, Vicki, to make that last sad journey to the vet's with him on 29 November 2006. 'It was heart-wrenching,' Myron remembers. 'I called all the staff and they came out to say goodbye; it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but I knew I had to do it because he was suffering and I'd never let him be in pain.' His obituary appeared in hundreds of newspapers; the following link is to a local one.
We understand that Dewey was cremated, and his ashes buried in front of the library. A granite memorial stone (left) marks the spot and commemorates his life, with the inscription, In Loving Memory of Dewey Readmore Books: World-Famous Library Cat. Meanwhile a bronze sculpture of Dewey, by Heather Beary, was created for Spencer Library (right): there are many more photos of it here.
The Gathering monument
Several years before his passing, we note that an image of Dewey featured on a remarkable monument to the past, present and future of Spencer to be found in the town's East Leach Park (left). It was created as a mosaic of broken tiles and is named The Gathering: Of Time, of Land, of Many Hands. Designed by Nina Smoot-Cain and John Pitman Weber, it was begun as a millennium project and completed in about 2 years. Some 100 people worked on assembling it, ranging in age from young children to citizens in their nineties, and many others were associated with it. There was a set of fascinating and colourful pages all about the project at Surf Iowa which is no longer online, but they can still be seen at the Internet Archive. At this page covering the design and structure of the mosaic, under the heading 'West Wall' about halfway down, the image of Dewey can be seen, and we show an enlargement here (right); and at this one the completed structure is shown. The monument is reputed to be the 'second favourite attraction' in Spencer but we don't know what the first is.
Books and a movie
Dewey's life story, interwoven with that of Vicki Myron and aspects of life in small-town Iowa, was published on 24 September 2008 in the USA. Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat who Touched the World, written by Vicki with Bret Witter, was published by Grand Central Publishing of New York. It received enthusiastic reviews: read some of them and more about the book using the following links:
The book was also published in the UK and some 30 other countries, having been translated into various languages. (Referring to messages she receives, Vicki says, 'Sometimes I can't read a word, or even recognise the language!'). It topped the New York Times best-sellers list for several weeks and remained on the list for a total of nearly nine months. By June 2009 almost a million copies had been sold.
Vicki Myron and Bret Witter have cooperated on several new books. The first, called Dewey ... There's a Cat in the Library!, is a children's book and was launched with a signing at Clay County Fair in Iowa on 12 September 2009 before going on sale throughout the US. The book is being promoted by Toys 'R Us and others, as well as being available through all the usual bookstores and websites. Then there is a middle-grade version of Dewey's story, aimed at children of 8 to 12 years and called Dewey the Library Cat, published in May 2010. Two further books were released in October 2010: Dewey's Nine Lives, a book for adults that has a selection of real-life stories about cats, including some previously untold tales of Dewey's life; and a high-quality children's picture book called Dewey's Christmas at the Library. Vicki continued touring to promote these books and do signings, but not on the same scale as for the first one.
A movie about Dewey was on the books to go ahead, with Meryl Streep due to play the part of Vicki Myron, but took much longer than originally planned. A scriptwriter visited Spencer for a week in May 2009 and at that time it was hoped to have the film finished by Christmas 2010. It's understood that Vicki rejected the initial script and a year later it was still not complete; until that happened there could be no further progress. According to Vicki, the contract expired on 31 December 2010, but the movie company took another 16-month option on the film. She said she was happy the movie didn't come out in its original proposed form, as it was a huge disappointment and ruined the book and Dewey. See the article links below, but we are not so far aware of any further developments.
The visitors keep coming
While Dewey became famous in his lifetime and many people visited Spencer to go and meet him, it seems that visitor numbers have increased greatly since his death and the publication of the books about him. In July 2010 it was reported by the Sioux City Journal that people make pilgrimages from all over the place to see where Dewey worked; see the full article, and from the page there's a link to a short video about the library, its visitors and Dewey's haunts.
By mid-2010 it was reported that visitors had come from all 50 of the United States, and from nearly 20 other countries. When the film about him finally comes to fruition, we imagine numbers will increase still further.
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Further links and reading
At YouTube there's also another lovely video made by Iowa Public Television in 1998 called Lion Kings, featuring Dewey and another Iowa cat Tom, of the hardware store in the town of Conrad (about whom we also have a short article).
NB: Dewey also left us his Job Description and Rules for Running a Library.
Read about some more American Library Cats
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