The Mesa, Arizona Public Library and the Public Library in Norman, Oklahoma both became infested with bed bugs in the last ten days. They recently troubled the Longmont, Colorado library.
Are there any patterns here, and what can we learn from these cases?
According to Mesa spokesman Steve Wright, bedbugs were on chairs in the computer tech section and upstairs in a reading area.
The chairs were immediately thrown out after the incident was reported to staff, Wright said.
The city hired an outside vendor to check the rest of the library with a bedbug-sniffing dog. According to Wright, the problem has been remediated.
The library is open for business as usual.
This is not the first time bedbugs have been found in a library.
It’s also not the first time that spokespeople have declared a bed bug problem solved before they could be fairly certain of that.
This story from AZCentral.com, as well as the ABC15.com report imply that the Mesa library was considered clear based on a canine inspection with no alerts, with no actual “bed bug treatment” other than canine-identified infested chairs being thrown out.
Let’s compare the situation in Mesa to the recent case in Longmont, Colorado. In Longmont, chairs were apparently treated based on canine alerts, so once those chairs were treated, the problem was considered cleared.
And then ten days or so later, in another canine inspection, the canine alerted to seven additional chairs, as well as to two which were previously treated. Incidentally, according to the Denver Post, at least one library employee in Longmont is now thought to have taken a bed bug home.
It’s almost always the case that public cases of bed bugs are declared “solved” almost immediately, even though most of these cases are not employing one-shot treatment methods like Vikane gas fumigation or structural heat treatment.
The simple truth is that dogs are not 100% accurate, and some are more accurate than others.
Most treatment (especially a contact killer like freezing CO2, as employed in Longmont) is not a one-shot deal.
And as long as you stay open for business, there’s a chance that more bed bugs may be brought in from whatever sources brought them in originally. In other words, some Longmont library patrons who sat in the chairs before the infestation was discovered could have brought bed bugs in again by the same method.
I hope the Mesa case truly is eradicated, but I wish public officials would stop declaring success after one treatment and before enough time has elapsed for them to be more certain.
Oh, and I really hope the Mesa library destroyed those chairs before tossing them out, or a lot of people are going to potentially suffer from bed bugs after putting the chairs back into use. For this reason, treatment is often preferable to tossing things out. Mesa Public Library might have spent its funds renting something like the Insect Inferno, rather than puchasing $15K worth of plastic chairs.
And what about Norman, Oklahoma?
Bed bugs were discovered by a patron who found and killed two bed bugs in the magazine area of the Norman Public Library on Tuesday, September 20th. Treatment occurred the following weekend.
In Norman, one library patron complained to editors of the Norman Transcript that the library did not post a warning to patrons visiting between the time bed bugs were discovered by a customer on Tuesday evening, and when the library was closed for treatment on Saturday (the timeline of events is detailed in this Norman Transcript article).
Disclosure to patrons was made in Longmont via a sign posted outside the open building, but it isn’t clear from the news reports linked to above if any disclosure occurred in Mesa. Interestingly, in the Colorado city, patrons did not seem to be deterred by the sign.
The Norman library was treated with “heat and chemicals,” which is ambiguous — we’ve heard the term “heat” being used to refer to steam or structural heat treatment.
Like Mesa, Norman rushed to replace upholstered chairs with plastic ones.
According to this story from KFOR news,
The library is considering putting restrictions on patrons bringing backpacks, suitcases or bed rolls in to the facility.
It may be a hardship to people needing to study or work in the library to restrict backpacks, but these along with luggage and especially bedrolls do seem like a significant danger in terms of transmitting bed bugs.
And clearly, we need to do everything we can to minimize the risk of libraries and other public places becoming infested with bed bugs.
What can we learn from these cases?
Based on my readings about these three cases, I would suggest library and other public officials stop rushing to declare bed bug cases “cleared.”
They should consider disclosing the presence of a problem to patrons using the facility, at least until treatment has occurred.
They should not assume canine inspections are 100% accurate.
Training library staff to recognize bed bugs and what to do if they’re found (as occurred in Longmont well before their bed bug problems came to light) is a good proactive move.
They should also consider that book drops and chairs seem to be bed bug problem areas in libraries — chairs, of course, were the focal point in Mesa, Norman, and Longmont.
Not allowing suitcases and bedrolls per Norman officials’ reasoning is one way to reduce exposure.
To reduce the problem of bed bugs being returned in books or infesting book drops, libraries could also easily and inexpensively employ a Packtite or Packtite Closet for treating returned books.
Any other suggestions? Please comment below!