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Bed Bugs in Library Books?

Last week, Marin Integrated Pest Management Commissioner Ed Hulme invited me to speak to Marin County Free Library staff about a growing concern both national and local: bed bugs in library books. ATCO Pest Control services all Marin County buildings under the IPM ordinance. In recent years, I have performed bed bug control training for many agencies including some associations. This latest deserves some further discussion.

In early December, an article appeared in The New York Times, describing situations across the country and even within California where bed bugs had been discovered hitchhiking in hardcover books returned to libraries from infested homes or had been found in books checked out of public libraries. There has always been a stigma attached to the presence of bed bugs, as if any home that harbors them is “unclean.” But recently, in this article and elsewhere, we’ve read about new infestations that have plagued even the best hotels and the most affluent neighborhoods, including the Bay Area.

To be clear and to squelch any unnecessary panic, there have been no reports of bed bug infestations as a result of book lending and no bed bugs reported in library books in the Marin County library system. So far so good. That said, prevention is always a wise course.

In preparation for my presentation, Scott Bauer, Deputy Director of Marin County Free Library, reviewed existing protocols for inspection of books, identification of damaged items and sealing and disposing of those that are not deemed irreplaceable. But given that Marin circulates about two million items through its library system, individual inspection is unrealistic. My job was to suggest further detection measures and remedies that could head off any problems before they occur and if need be address any that could arise down the road.

There are several steps in identifying and dealing with a potential bed bug problem in library books. The most basic involves isolating jackets, backpacks and other things from outside in a designated space, off the floor and away from main areas of the library and the collection itself. The first phase of detection and identification is frequent inspection of the physical site, including furniture and draperies as well as bookshelves, books and other items. Next, I indicated use of lures and traps such as Verifi and CatchMaster to identify pests and placement of cups called ClimbUps under furniture legs to prevent insects from accessing hideouts during the day.

Beyond these additional preliminary measures and those already in place, I suggested remedies that would involve bringing in pest control management specialists like ATCO Pest Control. None involves dousing the entire site in pesticides. Solutions include heat treatment of suspected items and steam vacuuming of floor coverings and upholstered furniture. More intensive but perhaps most effective of all, the use of specially trained bed-bug-sniffing dogs has proven 100% effective. These animals can detect microscopic particles in the air at the concentration of 550 parts per trillion. That is equivalent to finding one drop of water diluted into the combined water of 20 Olympic-size swimming pools!

I left the staff with a few simple do’s and don’ts. These apply not only to libraries anywhere, but also to your own home:

• Don’t believe everything you hear or read about pest control
• Don’t try taking care of the pest problems on your own
• Don’t try every pest control remedy
• Don’t wait too long to start controlling a pest problem
• Don’t be embarrassed if you have a pest control problem

• Do educate yourself about pest control techniques
• Do take action to control and prevent pest control problems
• Do be proactive when a pest control problem occurs
• Do contact a Pest Control Management Proprofessional