Soon after the Duluth Public Library reopened in 1980 in its new building on Superior Street and 5th Avenue West, it added a new member to its staff: a long-haired black cat named O’Keefe.
Biz White, who worked in Adult Services, had a friend who was moving and could not take O’Keefe with her. White mentioned it to Jan Schroeder, who was library director at the time. “We decided to hire her to be a mouser,” recalls Schroeder. She wasn’t aware of any mice in the building, she said, “But if we had any, she got them.”
O’Keefe was not known to be particularly friendly. The staff took care of her, though. She had a litter box in the staff locker room, and staff took turns emptying it.
The staff also developed a discreet public address system code phrase, ready to use if there were trouble somewhere in the library, recalls library staff member Laura Fournier–although they never had occasion to use it. “Mrs. O’Keefe to the circulation desk” would be a less worrying for the public to hear but would communicate clearly to the staff that a problem needed to be attended to.
O’Keefe lived on the lower floor of the library and prowled mostly in staff areas. She soon proved invaluable solving another problem: bats in the library.
Evidently, during construction of the building, some bats had made a home in the library and were now trapped. The library featured a motion-activated security system. When the bats flew through the building at night, they triggered the alarm. The library had a problem.
Things changed once O’Keefe arrived.
A custodian, Mairie Lind, witnessed O’Keefe in action early one morning and told Schroeder about it. “O’Keefe took off and made a one-pawed swipe–and that was the end of the bat.”
Note: No photos of O’Keefe were available, so we used an image from the book The Cat Selector by David Alderton.