My wife almost died from her allergy to cats and dogs, so I can see why some people might work up a dander over Browser the Library Cat. Council members in White Settlement, Texas, in fact, voted 2-1 to evict him from the public library there with 30 days’ notice. But now we learn Browser will keep his mascot job in the wake of a local petition drive and 1,000 Internet messages. Read the details from NPR. Browser is photogenic, lovable, and a skilled rodent catcher.
Still, regardless of Browser’s talents and skillset, Carly and I are of mixed minds. Remember, libraries are about access for all, people’s allergies notwithstanding, and from what I can tell, White Settlement has only one library location. That said, Carly and I worship cats just as ardently as TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows does, a passion evident in his post on Browser. Assuming that citizens can visit other libraries near by, I can see the case for Browser staying gainfully employed as the library’s mascot. If nothing else, keep in mind that cat dander doesn’t travel over the Net, and White Settlement residents can check out ebooks from OverDrive—hardly a substitute for a full library but still better than nothing at all.
What I’m curious about is how many people would be affected. I find it telling that a keep-Browser petition got started, but nothing from the “anti” camp as far as I know. I wonder how many citizens of this particular town are allergic to animals. And where do you draw the line? 20 people? 50? Or just one?
The seven reviewers of the library on Google show a pro-cat, pro-library sentiment. The Google rating is 4.5 out of five stars. Kudos to the librarians there for the library’s positives. Judging from the July event calendar there, the White Settlement librarians are keen on such basics as story-telling hours. Good! Not so terrific is that the story-telling hours don’t happen on weekends when young families could probably most benefit from them. Can’t the White Settlement library have both a cat and a schedule friendlier to working parents? Hello, City Council? Can you help the library expand summer hours? Over at Yelp, the library rating is a little lower, 3.5 out of five, but that’s with an even smaller number of reviews, just two.
Now, on to the next issue, given that White Settlement is in the news. The cat and the nice little library notwithstanding, what a horrible name for a town in an American riven by racial divides!
Ugly history lurks in White Settlement’s background. Two settlements once existed in the area—one for native Americans and the other for white people. White Settlement was incorporated in 1941. Sixty-four years later the city voted 2,388 to 219 against a proposal to change the name to West Settlement. According to the 2010 Census, just 140 native Americans and 497 mixed-race people resided then among the 16,116 inhabitants. 12,949 were pure white. Purity doesn’t necessarily mean affluence. Estimated median family income in 2013 was a mere $38,272, well below the $51,704 for Texas.
Simply put, I think White Settlement has more to worry about than dander from a library cat, and if Browser can draw more people to library to upgrade their skills and maybe learn more tolerance along the way, than more power to him.
At least there is some hope on the diversity front. The percentage of people in White Settlement who are of Hispanic or Latino origin—any race—rose from 14 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2010. I’d love to know how the name vote would go in 2016. Meanwhile, from afar, I’ll love Brower the Cat but hate the name of his town, so remindful of Confederate Flags.
Closer to home: My hometown of Alexandria, VA, still has a Confederate soldier statue in the middle of Washington Street. We’re thoroughly multiracial. Just when will local and state politicians wise up? Some legalities at the state level are one barrier, but could another reason for inaction so far be tourist dollars? No, don’t grind up the soldier. Put him where he belongs—in a slave museum.