The 300-year-old University of Coimbra’s Joanina Library is an impressive structure to look at. The architecture is ornate, and the inside is furnished with black-lacquered shelves, wood carvings, and gold and has rose, white, and grey marble tiles. The library holds thousands of books, many of which are centuries old. However, there is something more interesting about this library than just its appearance, and it has to do with how the library protects these aging manuscripts from insects that might feed on their pages.
The library contains bats. Yes, actual living, breathing, screeching bats.
The bats make their home behind the bookshelves, and at night they come out and feed on gnats, flies, and the beetles and moths that like to eat glue and paper. Nobody is exactly sure how long bats have been living in the library, but every evening for decades now, the tables are covered with leather shrouds to protect them from bat droppings, and every morning, the librarians remove the leather and clean the floors.
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For those who are interested in seeing the bats, Joanina’s librarians suggest that patrons stand on the steps just outside the library’s door and watch as the bats emerge and fly towards the surrounding hills. Visitors can also come on rainy days when the bats can apparently be heard “singing” from deep within the stacks.
While the librarians have expressed their frustration of people’s excessive interest in the bats as opposed to the wealth of knowledge that the library contains, they admit that the service that the bats provide is indispensable. In fact, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Maia do Amaral, one of the library’s directors, called the bats “honorary librarians.” The only problem now is that the increase of tourists who are interested in the bats is raising the temperature in the library, which leads to even more insects. Here’s hoping that the bats have a big appetite.
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