Bats in the libraries

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.

Biblioteca Joanina – photo from wikipedia

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.

Palace Library of Mafra – photo from wikipedia

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.’  



This entry was posted in Insecure Writer's Support Group, Olga Godim and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Bats in the libraries

  1. What a WONDERFUL preservation measure. I wasn’t aware – and thank you.

  2. dinahmow says:

    In Italy, bats would swoop in for mosquitoes if I left the terrace door open at night.

  3. Denise+Covey says:

    This is fantastic. I was comforted when I got to the part of how they dealt with the bat guano.

  4. soniadogra says:

    This is so interesting to know. Thank you for sharing it here. I’ll be narrating this to my children today.

  5. I have a child, crazy with bats. I’ll let him read this interesting post! Thank you And I like your honouring your father that way.

  6. denizb33 says:

    What a wonderful way to honour your father!
    Wow, I had not known that about bats in libraries. Such a great idea!

  7. patgarcia says:

    I like how the Portuguese do things. That is one of the countries, I haven’t been to yet.
    There are lots of old customs practiced here in Europe that many in the western world have forgotten about.
    Shalom aleichem

  8. Bats! What an interesting way to do it.
    That’s a nice way to honor your father.

  9. spunkonastick says:

    That is so wonderful they let the bats stay. A true symbiotic relationship.

  10. Sandra Cox says:

    What an awesome post. I loved the information on the bats and the tribute to your dad. Well done;)

  11. nancygideon says:

    Whoa! Unpaid labor (or rather laborers paid with free meals). What a great trade off – room for board.

  12. Loni Townsend says:

    That’s just batty! Heheh. It’s nice to see purposes coexist like that. And it’s also great the way you remember your father in your pen name.

  13. cleemckenzie says:

    That was a fascinating story about the bats! They should be on the payroll for all they do to protect that beautiful collection of books. I loved reading this, Olga. Thanks.

  14. Beth Camp says:

    Another lovely and fascinating post — and what a wonderful way to keep memories of your father close. I did get to visit one of those exquisite libraries in Portugal, but the story of bats was entirely new. Thank you for that amazing history. Hundreds of years of cleaning bat guano? No, thank you!

  15. I read a story once from the perspective of a bat that flew around a library. I had no idea it was real! Great information.

  16. Jenni says:

    That is so neat that you have taken your dad’s name as your penname. My dad also died fairly young, and we gave my son his name.

    I’m not afraid of many things, but bats do creep me out. When I visited the Crimea, I remembered going into a cave, and I thought my friends said there were “mice” in the cave. When I finally realized they said bats, I ran out screaming.

    I’m glad the Portuguese found a way to make bats useful, but I think I’ll avoid libraries if I ever got to Portugal 🙂

  17. emaginette says:

    Wow! What a wonderful symbiotic balance. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  18. Lee Lowery says:

    Olga, what a lovely way to honor your father. You always inspire me. ❤️

    I love the story about the bats in the libraries! I’ve always thought bats get a bad rap as unwanted rodents. Many years ago we lived near a church that actually had bats in the belfry. We watched them at dusk, as they went out for their night hunts. They are amazing, beautiful creatures. And I, too, am in awe of this magnificent use of their natural talents. Thanks for sharing!

  19. jlennidorner says:

    Fascinating. I was wondering about the poo, but it sounds like they figured that out. What a wonderful, symbiotic relationship.
    Hope you had a good IWSG day! I was under the weather earlier this week (not the C👾vid, don’t worry), but I’m much improved now.
    I’ve been scheduling debut author interviews at Operation Awesome. If you know one, please tell them to reach out to me.
    Over at the a-to-z challenge, plans are hatching for April 2022, including a big event this month (starts Feb 4).
    Plus, WEP has the “All You Need is Love” flash fiction challenge on February 16 – 18. I am trying to come up with something for that.
    Quote for February: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” -John Bunyan

  20. Thanks for sharing this unique story about the bats! I love how you carry your father with you, Olga! Even when a person is gone, the love never leaves you!

  21. What an interesting tidbit about bats. That’s cool that you use your dad’s name in your pen name.

  22. Erika Beebe says:

    What an interesting post! I can see how this library has maybe snuck into some writers stories.

    I also love how you remember your father. Thank you for sharing your memories 🙂

  23. yvettecarol says:

    Oh my goodness, I did not know that bats were employed in libraries in that way. It’s incredible. What a fascinating post. Thanks, Olga!

  24. Thank you for sharing this! I had no idea. This is very interesting!

  25. Kelly Steel says:

    This is so interesting to know and ingenious. I liked your story.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.