I was wandering through the upper floor of the library, cleaning spray and damp cloth in my plastic gloved hands, when I noticed a small bird flutter down from the ceiling and land a short distance in front of me, on a walkway between the biography section and the study area. I stood still so as not to alarm it, and looked closely to make sure I didn’t imagine it. Sure enough, there it was, a sparrow, as quiet and timid as I was. I looked around, but no one else seemed to have noticed it (the library wasn’t that busy). I was wondering whether to just leave it to its own devices when I spotted one of the caretakers, a gentle, rotund man in his sixties, on patrol a few metres away.
I motioned him over and whispered, ‘There’s a bird in the library.’ I pointed out the tiny visitor, gesturing round the corner of a bookshelf.
It took him a few seconds to see it. Then he stepped slowly in front of me. ‘Pass me that cloth,’ he said, quietly but purposefully. I did so. He moved closer, then jumped forward onto the floor, throwing the cloth over the creature and holding it there. It wriggled but didn’t seem to put up much resistance. Although dramatic, the moment passed almost entirely unobserved. The main floor was near-deserted and no one in the study area looked up from their laptops. The caretaker got up and walked briskly to the lift, cupping the trembling bundle in his hands.
I found another cloth and resumed my cleaning duties.
Later I saw the caretaker in the staff kitchen. He told me they knew the sparrow was somewhere in the building; it had been inside for a couple of days but hadn’t been sighted for a while. Birds sometimes fly in through the front doors or the windows in the roof, and get trapped. This one would have been imprisoned without food or water for at least 48 hours. Trapped in this glass cell with no opportunity for nourishment, it would have got progressively weaker, until it could barely move.
The caretaker had taken the bird outside and unwrapped it, but it didn’t take off. It just stood there. When he went back after a couple of hours, it had gone.