Library Gerbils Tell All

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library

Library Gerbils Tell All

Salt and Pepa on Life, the Library, and What it Means to be a 21st Century Rodent

Nearly every morning at Watha T. Daniel Neighborhood Library, you will see small children pour out of story time, toddle up to the children’s desk, and stop dead in their tracks. Once they’ve caught a glimpse of library rock stars, Salt and Pepa, it’s all over. When these two spotlight-loving gerbils decide to turn on the charm, it’s impossible to miss their mesmerized fans laughing, clapping, jumping and squealing in delight. 

As librarians, who generally lack fur and who rarely exercise using revolving wheels, we find these guys can be a tough act to follow. But are we jealous of all the attention they receive? Well, maybe just a little. We decided it was about time to figure out what all the fuss is about. What makes them such a sensation?  What keeps them up at night? What are their hopes and dreams? Some of their answers surprised us, and may surprise you too.

Pepa the Library GerbilSalt and Pepa, it was not that long ago that you spent your days eking out a meager existence in an obscure pet shop boarding house.  In just a couple short months your popularity has skyrocketed among Watha T. Daniel library users.  To what do you attribute your extraordinary success?
Pepa: I’d love to say that it was all a result of talent and hard work, but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. In truth, we’ve just been really lucky.  
Salt: I have to say I agree. But I would like to add that there are a lot of responsibilities and expectations that come with being library gerbils.  We do work hard at staying fit and making sure we get enough rest.  However, the support we get from our fans is really what drives us to keep bringing our "A" game day after day, even when stuff gets crazy.  

Since you’ve arrived at Watha T. Daniel, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen? 
Salt: I don’t know if this is the craziest, but it’s something I’ll never forget. And this was an interaction with a few of our fans. I’d have to say the “Happy Birthday” serenade.
Pepa: Ha ha ha! The “Happy Birthday” serenade.  That was priceless.  

The “Happy Birthday” serenade?
Salt: Yeah, so one day, a few of our fans were waiting around to see if we would make an appearance.  We pop out of our rooms, and they just, you know, burst into song.   We were like, “Whoa, this is unexpected.” 
Pepa: Yeah, but wait ‘til you hear the song. It went like this. “Happy birthday to you! You live in a cage. You look like a gerbil ... and you smell like one too.” 
Salt: So, on the one hand, I’m thinking, that’s so awesome! I mean, no one has ever written a song about us before!
Pepa: Yeah, but we’re also like, Hey, it’s not our birthday.  And like, what’s that supposed to mean, ‘"you smell like a gerbil"? I mean, how are we supposed to smell?

Well, it sounds like they meant well, at least.  How did you react? 
Salt the Library GerbilSalt: We just laughed it off.  Sometimes gerbils are a little misunderstood.  But seeing the delight we bring to children every day makes it all worth it.   

Speaking of being misunderstood, I’ve heard that you are often mistaken for rodents from other backgrounds (mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc.) How do you guys feel about that?
Pepa: I should add that we have even occasionally been mistaken for bunny rabbits and dogs. Humiliating. But basically, it comes down to the fact that there seems to be a real lack of awareness out there, when it comes to gerbils. Gerbils just aren’t well represented in modern media.  I mean, I can think of dozens of books and movies, prominently featuring mice and rats. Gerbils? Well, not so much. But that’s why I think the work we’re doing here is so important.  We’re changing that and able to combat some common misconceptions.     
Salt: Yeah, I think we’ve come a long way. But there’s a lot more work to do on this front, and for rodent acceptance in general.  Sure, there are a lot more books about mice and rats, but many of them really perpetuate these negative stereotypes.  I just finished reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and I have to say, the mouse in the story comes off as lazy, demanding, and inconsiderate.  I think it’s important to challenge the dominant narrative when it comes to how rodents are portrayed in children's literature.
Pepa: True dat. Don’t even get me started on Night of the Living Gerbil by Elizabeth Levy.  Gerbil zombies! I mean, like, seriously?! But I think we are starting to see some good counter-storytelling out there, too.  We’re also starting to see stuff like the Baby Mouse series by Jennifer Holm, featuring a really strong and independent rodent protagonist, and A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon. The hamsters in that story are genuinely relatable and resourceful. And I think we can look forward to more stories like these, which demonstrate that rodents aren’t all just a bunch of frightened little beggars looking for handouts.  Nor do we pose any significant zombie threat [Pepa chuckles]. 

If you had to pick a favorite book, what would it be?
Salt: To read or to eat? 

Well, let's go with "to read." 
Salt: In that case, I have to say Mouse Guard.  I'm a big fan of graphic novels. I love the illustrations, and I love historical fantasy.  Also, these mice are anything but "meek." I wouldn't tangle with them. But my real dream is to see more gerbil-centered literature out there one day.    

One last question.  If Gerbil Heaven exists, what would you like to hear Gerbil God say when you arrive?
Pepa: We just received a major shipment of cardboard paper rolls. 

--Elaine Pelton