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Bats eat bookworms

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  September 17, 2013 10:30 AM

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Libraries are tightly controlled places: no eating, drinking, loud talking, reshelving your own books, and definitely no bats. Except at two 18th century libraries, bats are as essential as reference librarians and the card catalogue.

In a new book, "The Library: A World History," author James Campbell and photographer Will Pryce survey the world's libraries, from the expansive new National Library of China to the Tripitaka Koreana, which was built in 1251 in South Korea and is one of the oldest intact libraries in the world. The book is full of interesting asides, including the fact about the bats, which live at the Biblioteca Joanina and the Mafra Palace Library in Portugal. In an email, Campbell explained that the bats, which are less than inch long, roost during the day behind "elaborate rococo bookcases" and come out at night to hunt insects which otherwise would feast on the libraries' books. The price of this natural insect control is paid in scat: The bats, Campbell writes, "leave a thin layer of droppings over everything. So each morning the floors have to be thoroughly cleaned...and the furniture has to be covered at night."

Images, from the top: Mafra Palace Library in Mafra, Portugal, Tripitaka Koreana in Haeinsa, South Korea, and the National Library of China, Beijing.

Mafra 1.jpg

Library Campbell 2.jpg

Library J Campbell 3.jpg

Images courtesy of James Campbell and Will Pryce.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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