Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The True Tails of Baker and Taylor - by Jan Louch & Lisa Rogak

In the following post when writing about cats I spell out the word "and" between Baker and Taylor; when referring to the company the ampersand (&) is used.

Although librarians and booksellers today almost always associate the Baker & Taylor Company with its cat mascots the book vendor existed before the cats named in its honor. According to the company's history page,155 years passed from the founding of the company to the adoption of  the felines Baker and Taylor by the Minden branch of the Douglas County (Nevada) Public Library. Author Louch and then library director Yvonne Saddler decided to get a cat when they discovered mice in their new building. Baker came first, a special breed of cat called a Scottish Fold which Louch and Saddler bought with their own funds. Once they realized that Baker needed a friend, they convinced the company with which they did so much business to buy the second cat for them. Baker & Taylor sponsored the care and feeding of the cats throughout their lives, in exchange for the use of their images on promotional materials. Calendars, tote bags and posters with the cats' likenesses are still highly sought-after items at library conventions even now, long after the cats' deaths. This was, not surprisingly, the intention of the company. As explained by their sales rep when he called with the offer to buy Taylor "the whole idea is to get people into our booth at conferences, and I think the cats will help. At least they have to be better than what we currently use." Louch's commentary on this really struck a chord with me
I had to agree. The freebies Yvonne had brought back from the last American Library Association (ALA) convention consisted of a horseshoe-shaped key chain and a nondescript black paperweight with Baker & Taylor Co. etched on it, which she promptly tucked away in her desk, unused and gathering dust ever since.
So here I must editorialize about one of the things I dislike most about library conventions: the freebies, which, just as Louch describes, so often just wind up forgotten in the desks of the attendees. Meanwhile the manufacturers of such give-aways are exploiting precious resources to make all the junk, which librarians can't seem to get enough of during the convention itself. Do my fellow librarians not realize that they won't use the stuff? Why do they clamor for it every time? I remember once when "going green" was just starting to become a rallying cry, the ALA sent out some information about how they would be "greening" the convention. It included a place where we could offer additional suggestions. Mine was that vendors not bring dumb crap to pass out (I think I used different words, though and I don't think anyone heeded my advice, either).

This book is as much a memoir of all books and pets the author ever loved (as well as her love of libraries), as it is a story of Baker and Taylor. I was especially interested that she continued to love her childhood library even when the "dyspeptic librarian" got tired of her checking out ten items every day, and changed her limit to five. I also got a chuckle of Louch's description of being "shushed" by patrons when her stories about the cats got too loud and animated. I, myself, have been asked to quiet down on at least two occasions by people using the library I work in!

Louch also treats the issue of book banning and censorship.
Libraries also provide unfiltered access to information in the form of books and other resources that reflect a wide variety of opinions and ideas...the purpose of a library [is] to provide a wide variety of viewpoints whether or not you [agree] with them. 
It is for this reason that she defends keeping Mein Kampf in the library, even as she explains how much she abhors the Holocaust deniers who leave brochures in books about World War II.

If you don't agree with something and want to write and publish your own book stating your views, that's fine. Traditionally, public libraries have been very good about finding and putting books with opposing views on their shelves. 

Baker and Taylor succeeded in keeping the mice away, and they also made the library a happier place. Circulation improved as people came in to see the cats, and left with their first library card.

Louch became Baker and Taylor's spokesperson, answering their fan mail, and creating an archive ("because that's what any responsible librarian in my position would do").

Library cats have always been a thing. As noted in the Baker & Taylor website (highlighted above) they have been used since the time of ancient Egypt. Their presence, like Baker and Taylor's, was both practical (mousing) and fun. In fact, this is not the first time I've blogged about a real-life library cat. See my post about Dewey, the library cat from Spencer, Iowa. Louch also intersperses profiles of other library cats throughout the work.

This fun book was a perfect read during my recent vacation. I laughed, I cried, I empathized.

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