O’Keefe, the Library Cat

Soon after the Duluth Public Library opened its new building on Superior Street and 5th Avenue West in 1980, 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 Janet Schroeder, who was the 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 particularly friendly. The staff took care of her, though: she had a litter box in the staff locker room, and people took turns emptying it.

Laura Fournier recalls that the staff developed a discreet public address system code phrase, “Mrs. O’Keefe to the Circulation Desk,” to signal if there were trouble somewhere in the library, although they never had occasion to use it. This would communicate to staff that a problem needed to be attended to without worrying the public.

O’Keefe lived on the lower floor of the library and prowled mostly in staff areas. She soon proved invaluable in solving another problem: bats in the library.

Evidently, during the 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.”


Janet Schroeder, former director of the Duluth Public Library and one of the Duluth Library Foundation founders.
No one has a photo of O’Keefe, so we are including a photo of another book-loving cat, Indigo, instead.