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We Chat With Rice University’s Official Cat Video Librarian

Anna Shparberg talks about this much-needed feline addition to the academic world.

Phillip Mlynar  |  Oct 1st 2015


We all know that cat videos rule the Internet, right? But sometimes mere world domination through YouTube views is not enough and you crave for a little more in the way of respect. That’s when a formal cosign from an academic institution can really fortify your cause. That’s just what’s happened to the esteemed field of cat videos, as the Fondren Library at Rice University in Houston has an official repository of cat videos.

Yep, under the watch of feline-friendly librarian Anna Shparberg, the globe’s vast vault of cat videos has been formally categorized in an academic manner. Hurrah, indeed.

After getting wind of this momentous development, I spoke to Anna about the origins of the cat video library, the dynamics of categorizing feline footage, and the entry requirements for the Ninja Cats section.

Catster: How did the idea to start an academic cat video library come about?

Anna Shparberg: Many of my coworkers are cat owners — that’s not a surprise as librarians and cats kind of go together! — and we have often shared our favorite cat videos. I needed a place to store them so that I could view them again. We had this great software for creating library research guides, called LibGuides, and it seemed natural to put the videos in that. So it started out as a kind of inside librarian joke that caught the zeitgeist.

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Clever Cat via Shutterstock.

Are you aware of any other academic institutions that also have a cat video library?

Not in the past, but ever since our cat video guide was posted by the Library Journal and other higher-education-related websites, I have received several requests from other libraries to copy and modify it. So maybe there will be several more guides like this in the future; one of the libraries even wanted to create a special humor category for it.

So out of all the cat videos in the world, how did you go about deciding which videos to include in the library?

Of course, they had to be funny and have at least the potential to become classics. Also, they had to be respectful to the cats — I rejected any videos that showed cats in distress or being mocked by humans. For example, sometimes you come across videos where cats are panting from being dehydrated or stressed out or meowing from fear and that’s something I really tried to avoid.

I thought long and hard about the one where kittens ride the Roomba and fall off one by one, but decided that it stopped short of cat abuse, and so I did, after all, put it in.

Also, I excluded things such as commercials, photos like Caturday, cartoons (even Simon’s Cat, which I adore), and videos that were too obviously staged and had too much human element in them. And as I often have to point out when putting together resources for a serious research guide, this is not a comprehensive list.

CatVideoLibraryRoomba

Roomba kittens via YouTube.

What’s the hardest part about categorizing cat videos?

While it’s the librarian’s nature to want to organize everything in sight, the sheer number and variety of the videos is the main challenge. The cat video genre has absolutely exploded and I don’t think any one guide can do it justice; it would be a full-time job to try to do it properly, so I try to keep up the best I can.

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Smart Graduate Pet Cat via Shutterstock.

If someone is cynical about the merits of a cat video library, how would you attempt to persuade them of its virtues?

I wouldn’t dream of it! A cat video LibGuide is as frivolous as they come and I insist on keeping it that way. But, seriously, just look at the guide’s Bibliography tab to find examples of genuine academic research about cat videos beginning to appear. Popular culture gained respectability in academia quite a while ago, and, in this day and age, anything is grist for the research mill.

When it comes to the students at Rice University, what sort of cat videos do they seem to like best?

Rice University attracts very bright and creative students who, unfortunately, often get stressed from their heavy course loads and high expectations placed on them, so the library does what it can to help them. We have a tradition of bringing in therapy dogs (and, when possible, cats) during the finals week — it’s a really popular event and we have promoted the cat LibGuide in conjunction with that. I cannot say which videos they like best, but the guide surely makes its humble little contribution to their well-being.

You have a Starz category in the library that includes Lil Bub, Henri Le Chat Noir, and the dearly departed Colonel Meow. What are the requirements for entry into this exclusive club?

The cat has to be big — that is, a real star — and over several years, plus I just have to like him or her. My family’s favorite cat is Nora, because my mom plays the piano and Nora has really struck a cord with her. Did you know that Nora is the soloist in a modern music piece written by the Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piečaitis? It’s called “CATcerto.”

And what does a cat have to do to be included in the Ninja Cats archive?\Just to stay true to his true ninja self.

Which of the 200 or so Maru videos in existence do you consider the most important?

That’s hard to choose because Maru is quite impossibly cute. I guess it will be the one where he sleeps in his hammock.

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Anna’s own cats, Kasia (up front) and Nyusya.

Finally, do you have any cats yourself?

I have two cats, a fluffy black cat who loves to spend nights on the chimney, and a sweet little tuxedo cat. They try their best to keep me busy and entertained!

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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world’s foremost expert on rappers’ cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it’s not quite what you think it is.