It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
FEBRUARY QUESTION: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone you miss?
MY ANSWER: I could talk about several people like that, but the most important one was my father. He died years ago. I didn’t write then, so he never knew. But I chose his first name, Godim, as my fiction pen name. Every time I write a story and put down my byline – Olga Godim – I remember him. This way he is always with me, even though he had never read any of my stories.
I want to talk about something different this month. It is not about me as a writer, but it is about books. And bats. In fact, it is about libraries. I learned this fascinating tidbit a couple weeks ago, and I’m sure some of you are not aware of it.
In common parlance, bats are often associated with witches and dark magic, especially for speculative fiction writers like myself. But two historical libraries in Portugal – the only ones in the whole world – use bats as bug repellents, to protect their priceless manuscripts.
One is the Biblioteca Joanina of the University of Coimbra. Another one is the Palace Library at the Palace of Mafra near Lisbon.
Both are gorgeous old libraries in the ornate Baroque style. Amazing décor, marvelous gilded carvings, the usual. Since the 1700s, soon after the libraries opened, the colonies of bats have been roosting inside those buildings, behind the bookshelves. Nobody actually recorded the exact dates when the bats first took residence among the stacks. The little flyers sleep in the daytime when the libraries are in use. At night, when all the visitors are gone, the bats fly out to hunt through the libraries’ corridors and balconies, devouring insects and thus preserving the magnificent ancient volumes in the libraries’ collections. Some of those volumes date back to the 15th century or before.
The staff are very understanding of their manuscript-protecting creatures. There are always open windows in the buildings, so the bats could fly outside, drink water, and feed in the gardens nearby, before returning home. Furthermore, every evening, before the employees leave for the night, they cover all the original 18th century furniture with leather sheets, just as it has been done for hundreds of years, to capture the bat guano. Every morning, before the libraries open their doors, the staff remove the furniture covers and scrub the floors, so they could welcome in the library patrons.
So simple and so ingenious. I’m in awe. Clever Portuguese. Some modern libraries spend thousands of dollars on book preservation, and it could be done much cheaper by common bats. Perhaps we should copy a page from their ‘book.’