Bookworms and Bed Bugs

The Free Online Dictionary defines “bookworm” as:

1. One who spends much time reading or studying.
2. Any of various insects, especially booklice and silverfish, that infest books and feed on the paste in the bindings.

Libraries with a mission to preserve and lend books to the public need to be vigilant about bookworms and the bookworms who visit the library need to insure that their bookworm habits do not inadvertently infest libraries with bookworms of the insect kind.

Bookworms who like to read in bed, may live in apartments infested by bed bugs that like to feed in bed. A bookworm reading themselves to sleep may stash their book under the pillow, on a night stand or on the floor next to the bed. If the bedroom is infested with bed bugs, the book can provide a perfect harborage for bed bugs. The bindings of hardcover books have a space between the spine and the pages that is perfect for bed bugs to harbor. When the bookworm returns their book to their library, the book may harbor bed bugs that can infest the library or be transported into the homes of other library patrons.

The problem of bedbugs in library books has appeared in numerous locations in many countries. Libraries with bed bug infestations often are forced to close until expensive treatment for bed bugs has been completed. Library staff must be alert to bed bugs in books, especially in areas with high rates of infestation. Many large libraries have policies in place for routine inspection of books for signs of bedbugs.

One incident at the Denver Public Library in 2009 received widespread attention. An elderly patron commonly borrowed rare books and took them home to scan them for the online “Project Gutenberg“. Unfortunately the gentleman lived in a bed bug infested apartment. Many of the rare books he borrowed were returned infested with bed bugs. The Denver Public Library was infested with bed bugs as a result. They canceled the patron’s membership and requested that the books remaining on loan be returned to a secure drop. Instead, the patron returned the books to a public drop and the library was re-infested. The library destroyed $12,000 worth of rare books and paid $6000 in fumigation costs to eliminate their infestation.

The cautionary tale is for bookworms to check your books for bookworms, before the bookworms and bed bugs worm their way into your home. Bedbugger.com has a forum devoted to the topic of bed bugs in library books, used books, DVD and VHS rentals. Several people report heat treating library books in their Packtite. Interestingly, one poster reports requiring students to submit papers electronically rather than hard copies that could harbor bed bugs. e-books, e-readers and e-submissions may have arrived just in time for the modern bed bug era.

Underside of Immature Bed Bug

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Bed Bugs, Environment, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Bookworms and Bed Bugs

  1. Dave says:

    Too bizarre, but if it is happening now, then it must have been a problem in libraries before bedbugs became rare. One wonders how they used to deal with it? Perhaps libraries will have to adopt protocols such as used in museums to fumigate specimens before returning them to a collection to keep out the dermestids and the like.

    Destroying 12 grand worth of rare books sounds like hysteria to me. I would think that bagging the books and freezing would be more than adequate for a tropical bug. If not, then CO2 fumigation or even bagging the books with mothballs for a few weeks should have worked.

  2. Dave says:

    Interesting glitch if you put your data on the wrong line – but I’d appreciate it if you deleted the name above.

    • jjneal says:

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t know why they decided to destroy the books. Perhaps they destroyed them in an attempt to kill the bugs with heat.
      I don ‘t think library books are likely to be infested with bed bugs unless they are in a room that is totally out of control. But some situations are very bad.

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for fixing my glitch.

    Seems the books were destroyed because:
    “The infested books could have been rendered bed bug-free, but their pages were stained so heavily by bed bug droppings that they had to be destroyed. He’s now been banned from the library and fined the $12,000 for the 31 ruined rare books.”

    http://bedbugger.com/2009/09/23/denver-public-library-book-return-infested-with-bed-bugs/

    The current news is full of stories of the Longmont (between Boulder and Ft Collins) library being infested with bed bugs – they are replacing their upholstered reading chairs with wood benches, a logical move. I wonder if the the book borrower has just switched libraries.

  4. Mean Green says:

    Wow. I have never really thought about this, but it totally makes sense. One of the things that is hard to make Pest Control Seattle customers understand is that bed bugs can literally come from anywhere.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This article totally gives me the creeps! It makes sense, but as a child you never seem to worry or comprehend these sorts of things that can come about from public places. Before it just used to be “wash your hands, there are germs”, now it just seems there are so many more things that we need to be cautious about. I keep seeing specials on bed bugs (on TV) , and I find it interesting how more and more infestations are becoming common when I don’t think there used to be as many issues on bedbugs in the past. Creeps me out living in a dorm….

  6. Pingback: Bed Bugs in Hospitals | Living With Insects Blog

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