10 Animals Who Have Broken Into the Library

Meet an owl with his own visitor card, bats who take care of rare books, and other wild library fans

The library is a refuge for everyone — and by everyone, I mean the whole of the animal kingdom. Sure, we all know (and try to forget) that plenty of microbial folks have wiggled their way into the stacks of the library, but what about the bigger critters and creatures? Last week, the Washington Post reported that a Georgetown library closed early after a knot — that’s the term used for a snake party — of four (four!) snakes was untangled and removed from the library premises. The library stayed closed for two more days just to make sure there were no more snakes on the premises.

We had a lot of questions. Would Samuel L. Jackson sign on for the dramatic adaptation, Snakes in the Library? Is the booksnake the sneakier and more intimidating relative of the bookworm? And most importantly: Are there other creatures who like to hang out in the library?

You’ll be pleased (or, in certain cases, concerned) to learn that there definitely are. Here are the ten species proven to be most bookish, based on their propensity for sneaking into the stacks.

Raccoons

Four baby raccoons were rescued from a New Jersey library after their mother, aiming to protect them from the same library personnel who captured her, hid them behind a wall near the first-floor elevator. After the mother was captured by staff they had to cut through drywall, brick, and steel (steel!) to rescue and remove the baby raccoons from the library.

Photo: Abby Brack/Library of Congress

Hawks

Hawks are majestic birds of prey and they aim higher than your local branch. Library hawks go all the way to the Library of Congress. This “juvenile female raptor” (which will be the title of my memoir, thank you) stayed in the Main Reading Room of the Jefferson Library for a week until she got hungry. The trick for getting her out? Bringing more birds into the library and setting them up in a trap. Two starlings named Frick and Frack were brought into the library and kept in a cage under a tarp. Frick and Frack — terrified by the predator and perhaps the heft of American history they found themselves suddenly enmeshed in — froze, which rendered them useless bait. Luckily, D.C. traffic prevailed, and a truck outside scared them into forgetting what they were actually afraid of. Frick and Frack jumped, and our juvenile female raptor (that’s her actual picture above, by the way) flew right into her trap. And she was still in the middle of the Neapolitan novels!

Owls

Owls are universal symbols of wisdom, and their facsimiles adorn many a library entrance. But one British owl had a very special relationship to the library at the University of Bath. His job was to keep other birds out of the way. Territorial seagulls were nesting on campus, and many feared for the safety of the humans on the ground. Professor Yoda the Owl, as he was named, swooped onto campus a couple times a week with his handler, and cleared out the seagulls. In exchange for his services, he was given his own library card. And his ID picture is better than mine will ever be.

Wild turkeys

Look, some of us will do anything to avoid a library late fee. But would you smash through a window? This is one of our sadder notes — last year a wild turkey “plunged to its death through a library reference room window.” No one else was harmed, and all that remained for reference were a few of the bird’s feathers.

Bears

Outside of the rather disturbing (but also award-winning!) classic of Canadian literature, bears rarely make their way into the library—but it’s not for lack of trying. A black bear descendant of Winnie-the-Pooh (probably, why not) “bumbled its way” into a tree to hang out outside the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood library in New Jersey. He was safely relocated so as not to be “a bother” to anyone else in town. Oh, bother!

Cats and kittens

Three abandoned kittens were found in the Streator Public Library in Illinois this past July. Library staff took care of the kittens until the local community found homes for all three babies by 5:30pm the same day. But the Streator kitties are only the latest in a distinguished line of library cats. Another bookish feline, Dewey, is one of the most famous animal library patrons out there.

The Icon Himself

Dewey rose to library legend from a darker place. On “the coldest morning of the year” the head librarian in Spencer, Iowa found kitten Dewey nearly frozen to death in the overnight library drop box (many other small critters like lab mice and rats have allegedly been found in other library drop boxes). Dewey went on to become a personality for the local library, a celebrity star of a documentary in Japan, and the star of his own book. Dreams really do come true.

Bats

Though bats are pests in many contexts, the ones who live in a Coimbra, Portugal library are welcome and necessary staff. Part of the night shift, these bats swoop through the stacks to eat gnats, flies, and more bugs that would otherwise destroy the rare books housed in the library. The bats have made the library their home since at least the 19th century. Every night, librarians cover the stacks with a cloth made from animal hide to protect the books from bat guano (poop), then pull the cloth away in the morning and wipe up the guano left behind on the floor. (No news on how they clean the cloth.) A fair price to pay for the preservation of centuries of knowledge.

Moose

A young bull moose came down from the mountain to check out some books at the University of Utah’s Marriot Library before being tranquilized and relocated away from the premises. On Twitter, the library reported that the “furry visitor” came for some books but has gone back home. And so he got tranquilized and relocated? Did they at least give him any books?

Lemurs

Don’t put Berisades and Ivy in a cage, or they’ll break out of the Duke Lemur Center, leap over an electric fence, and run into a library to hang out and munch on a tropical fruit salad. Humans share an ancient ancestor with these prosimians, so our love of libraries must have developed way far back in the evolutionary chain.

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