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