New York Times story on how libraries and their patrons respond to bed bug risks

by nobugsonme on December 6, 2012 · 9 comments

in bed bugs, libraries

New York Times journalist Catherine Saint Louis has a new story today about bed bugs in libraries.

Biblioteca

The article describes ways various libraries in the US have responded to bed bug infestations or tried to prevent them, and how library patrons are themselves responding to the risk of bed bugs in libraries and library books. (I spoke with Saint Louis a few months back as she was preparing the story.)

Not surprisingly, some librarians are starting to proactively inspect book returns. Saint Louis writes:

Until September, Kuang-Pei Tu, a manager in the circulation department of the Los Angeles Central Library, had not given much thought to bedbugs. Then Nicole Gustas, a regular who borrows three or four books a week, returned several in Ziploc bags, explaining that a bedbug had crawled out of a copy of “True Blood” while she was reading it. After Ms. Gustas complained to L.A. Weekly about the incident, Ms. Tu said she began doing cursory inspections for signs of bedbugs.

Oh, it just had to be True Blood, didn’t it? 

The little vampires!

Some libraries (such as Wichita’s system) are teaching library staff to recognize signs of bed bug infestations and others are using Packtites to treat suspect books upon return (see our FAQ on Packtites).  The Cincinnati library system, Saint Louis notes, has “48 [Packtites] for its 41 libraries.” Some patrons too, of course, are using Packtites to prevent bringing bed bugs home in books.

Since bed bugs commonly infest chairs in libraries, the article notes some libraries are also vacuuming furniture or using bed bug monitors, such as the pitfall traps which Islip, N.Y. public librarians have installed under furniture legs (see our FAQ on ClimbUp Insect Interceptors).

Libraries such as Denver’s, which was badly burned by infamous the bed-bugs-in-the-book-drop incident back in 2009, are also also warning patrons who may have bed bugs to take precautions and disclose the issue when returning items, so appropriate precautions can be taken.

Also notable here is the soundbite from Philip Koehler of the University of Florida, who suggests library patrons borrowing popular books (like bestsellers) and hardcover books (with their attractive spine harborages) will be most at risk. John Furman (“KillerQueen” on our forums) and Mike Potter are also among those who were quoted in the article.

It’s nice to see public libraries offering more eBooks — which are another way to reduce the risk of bed bugs being transmitted to and fro.

All in all, this is an excellent read and the first time we’ve seen a nationwide round-up of the “bed bugs in libraries” topic.

(Read more Bedbugger stories about bed bugs in libraries.)

 

Update (12/6/12):

You may be interested in this response to the New York Times story from Reluctant Habits; the author, Edward Champion, noted in his blog post, “The Bedbug Bunk: How the New York Times Used Fear and Misinformation to Spread Public Library Hysteria,” that the story the Times posted late last night was the “the seventh most emailed New York Times story by Thursday afternoon.”

Champion writes,

… Reluctant Habits has talked with many of Saint Louis’s sources and has learned that the Times article is misleading. Bedbugs are not the major threat that Saint Louis suggests they are. In fact, some of the library directors who Saint Louis spoke with have never had a bedbug epidemic at all. They were merely taking preventive measures in the wake of recent media stories.

I know you’ll want to read the rest here.

My own comment (pending moderation as I write this) posted in response to Reluctant Habits follows (it was rather hastily written, such as it is):

To be fair, Saint Louis noted in the article that the Islip library’s actions were proactive, rather than a reaction to a bed bug problem at the library.

It wasn’t my impression that Catherine Saint Louis misrepresented the problem.

That readers react in a hysterical manner is partly because bed bugs have the “ewww” factor and just tend to elicit that type of response, and also because many people had never thought of bed bugs being in a library before.

Is it very common?  Absolutely not, but it HAS happened in many libraries in the past year.

And you have to understand also that a few years ago, people were still being told bed bugs did not infest places like schools and libraries because they’re nocturnal.  That’s misinformation and it’s good for people to be aware this is possible.

Should we panic?  Absolutely not.  But people with bed bugs should think twice about tossing books which may have been exposed to them into a book drop, and everyone should learn to recognize signs of bed bugs (fecal stains, cast skins, bed bugs) in case they ever do encounter them on a train, in a hotel, or in a library.

I would question one note in the article, where Saint Louis says,

John Furman, the owner of Boot-a-Pest, a team of bedbug exterminators based on Long Island, said he has had hundreds of clients buy a portable heater called PackTite to kill bedbug life, baking any used or borrowed book as a preventive measure before taking it to bed.

I know some people do Packtite library books when they bring them home, but I suspect that Furman’s “hundreds of clients” were not all buying Packtites because of fear of bed bugs coming in through this one channel — library books.  I can see how this statement might imply that.  Hey, I know, let’s ask him!

I’m interested in your thoughts.  Do you think the Times story “used fear and misinformation” to spread hysteria?

Please comment and weigh in below!

 

Image credit: “Biblioteca” by Ismael Villafranco, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
1 CarpathianPeasant December 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

Good article. Thanks. I didn’t know Cincinnati had installed that much in preventative measures. I do look here first for updates rather than try to keep track of local stuff via the local media. (See, I trust you to be immediately informative.)

2 nobugsonme December 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

Thanks, Carpathian for your kind words, but I have to pass on the credit to the New York Times writer, Catherine Saint Louis. I did not know Cincinnati had Packtites installed in its libraries either!

3 nobugsonme December 6, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Update (12/6/12):

You may be interested in this response to the New York Times story from Reluctant Habits; the author, Edward Champion, noted in his blog post, “The Bedbug Bunk: How the New York Times Used Fear and Misinformation to Spread Public Library Hysteria,” that the story the Times posted late last night was the “the seventh most emailed New York Times story by Thursday afternoon.”

Champion writes,

… Reluctant Habits has talked with many of Saint Louis’s sources and has learned that the Times article is misleading. Bedbugs are not the major threat that Saint Louis suggests they are. In fact, some of the library directors who Saint Louis spoke with have never had a bedbug epidemic at all. They were merely taking preventive measures in the wake of recent media stories.

I know you’ll want to read the rest here.

My own comment posted in response to Reluctant Habits follows (it was rather hastily written, such as it is):

To be fair, Saint Louis noted in the article that the Islip library’s actions were proactive, rather than a reaction to a bed bug problem at the library.

It wasn’t my impression that Catherine Saint Louis misrepresented the problem.

That readers react in a hysterical manner is partly because bed bugs have the “ewww” factor and just tend to elicit that type of response, and also because many people had never thought of bed bugs being in a library before.

Is it very common? Absolutely not, but it HAS happened in many libraries in the past year.

And you have to understand also that a few years ago, people were still being told bed bugs did not infest places like schools and libraries because they’re nocturnal. That’s misinformation and it’s good for people to be aware this is possible.

Should we panic? Absolutely not. But people with bed bugs should think twice about tossing books which may have been exposed to them into a book drop, and everyone should learn to recognize signs of bed bugs (fecal stains, cast skins, bed bugs) in case they ever do encounter them on a train, in a hotel, or in a library.

I would question one note in the article, where Saint Louis says,

John Furman, the owner of Boot-a-Pest, a team of bedbug exterminators based on Long Island, said he has had hundreds of clients buy a portable heater called PackTite to kill bedbug life, baking any used or borrowed book as a preventive measure before taking it to bed.

I know some people do Packtite library books when they bring them home, but I suspect that Furman’s “hundreds of clients” were not all buying Packtites because of fear of bed bugs coming in through this one channel — library books. I can see how this statement might imply that. Hey, I know, let’s ask him!

I’m interested in your thoughts. Do you think the Times story “used fear and misinformation” to spread hysteria?

Please comment and weigh in below!

4 buggyinsyracuse December 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Thanks for the Captcha thing nobugs. I also have a question for you. How long did it take for your comments to appear on the NYT site? I posted mine over an hour ago and they are still not showing, and they weren’t hostile or anything like that. Just wanted to see if you had a long lag time as well. If not, I’ll try reposting.

5 nobugsonme December 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Thanks so much for reposting, Buggyinsyracuse!

There is a delay as the New York Times posts comments. So don’t give up! I would encourage others to post there as well since a lot of the people commenting don’t have any experience of bed bugs and there is a lot of misinformation about the problem (though not as much as in some, shall we say, lesser publications!)

I posted about 5-6 (as BedbuggerDotCom) at around 5:15 pm yesterday. A couple showed up after a few minutes. But others were not posted for another seven hours! I thought they were rejected somehow but they all eventually appeared.

I’ll note that the delayed comments were time-stamped as if I wrote them 7 hours later, which is annoying, but I’m glad they got through.

I was glad to see my main comment got a number of reader recommends also.

6 nobugsonme December 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

And an FYI for anyone who is having trouble with our new CAPTCHA at login– some like Buggyinsyracuse were having trouble with this new system designed to foil hackers and spammers, so I have just changed the settings to ensure you can comment freely.

You do not need to register or login to comment here (settings have been changed) at this time, and CAPTCHA is currently off for comments.

So just make sure you’re logged out (if the comment box has a space to fill in your username and email, you’re logged out), and fill in the comment form with your username (displayed) and email (not displayed) and your comment should appear. If you have any trouble with this or with registering/logging in, please let me know via the contact form!

7 KillerQueen December 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm

As per what I was talking about with regards to hundreds of people purchasing Packtites;

Yes, people have asked me specifically how they can be proactive and decontaminate possible problems with books. My answer is a Packtite.

The Packtite is an option that I mention and recommend with our prep sheet. It’s recommended to take the guess work out but, only if its in our clients budget. It’s a great tool when people have stored items under their beds.

So when I said hundreds of people … I’m talking about clients with all different types of needs. Do I make a profit for recommending it? Not one dime. I currently don’t sell it myself and have to refer clients who wish to purchase it to websites who do. Again, I don’t take a cut for the referral.

8 nobugsonme December 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Hi John,
Thanks for commenting!
That’s exactly what I thought you meant.
So in that sense, the article is a bit misleading.

9 twitchin December 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Overall, I found the article came across as informative, not as fear-mongering. The reality is that these critters are wherever we are, and shared around much more easily than one might think. We may not like the visible reminders that they are among us (interceptors on chair legs, ie), but I’d rather know that my library or other potentially high-risk facility is being proactive. An ounce of prevention…

As to misinformation – it doesn’t strike me as intentional; given the …let’s say ‘variety’ …of comments re prevention/remediation, any unintentional errors by the author may be forgiven (and then corrected :D ). This is why articles such as this and forums/blogs such as bedbugger.com are crucial; bed bugs seem to be increasing, and people are woefully uninformed/misinformed.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: