It has been many months now since our dear friend slinked off into that great, dark night. Whilst the circumstances of his disappearance remain unclear, it is time that we come to terms with the fact that our companion is no longer of this Earth.
In a community as large as ours, numbering more than 30,000 students, it is rare that we have such a significant point of reference. Library Cat is a significant site of our collective memory and our identity as students of Edinburgh University, he is a universal, apolitical signifier for the common good.
Library Cat was the kind friend greeting you as you walked to class in the morning, the surprise visit form your family when you felt low, the reassurance you needed the night before the essay deadline. The Facebook page which catalogued and aired his thoughts was perhaps one of the only forms of mass communication that much of the student body was in the slightest bothered with. Reaching more followers than any other student media outlet, including this very paper, or the sneaky click-attractors at The Tab. His wise thoughts, carefully curated by Alex Howard (and now in all good bookstores), were a source of comfort, amusement and spiritual guidance.
For me, Library Cat was a surrogate for the pets I left behind when I moved to Edinburgh for my studies. He was a low maintenance companion who would sit in my company as I read through academic waffle late into the night. We would occupy the rounded chairs by the left-hand side of the library’s ground floor, and whilst I’m sure I was reading far too much into our relationship, I like to think that in his aloof feline manner he at least held some semblance of pity for me as I worked into the night.
In the Housing Co-Operative (a community of 106 students based in Bruntsfield) our mascot is Cooper, a cat we took in August 2015 as he sat hungry on the steps of our building. He is now a much beloved character and a symbol of how a community can come together in acts of collective love, charity and mutual support. He flits between our flats and bedrooms, and though he has favourites he offers his counsel and companionship unconditionally.
Animals play a powerful role in our cultural history, and a role which is often underplayed. Now more than ever we need a public which is aware of our inseparability from the world around us, a public which is aware that human experience is explicitly bound up in the experience of our environment and our planet’s cohabiters. Just as we give thanks to wealthy benefactors and notable figures through public memorialisation, so too should we offer thanks for the animals upon which our society is utterly contingent. Edinburgh has quite the tradition of animal memorialisation, with Greyfriar’s Bobby, Wojtek the bear, and Bum ( a pup down in Princes Street Gardens) all celebrated denizens. Perhaps in a more academic context we should recognise the contribution of the many animals who have, unwillingly, played a role in the advancement of medical sciences – I for one would not be against a little stone rabbit sat by the entrance to the Old Medical School.
At the very least we should have a small plaque by the entrance to the main library which draws attention to the fact that a good friend of ours once sat here, and is sorely missed. I, for one, would love to see this campaign come to fruition and anticipate seeing where this will lead. Library Cat, forever in our hearts.
Image: Calum Hall, October 2014, ‘Two Hairy Creatures in the Library’