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Bed Bugs in Library Books! What Next?

By Chris Williams on March 5, 2013.

Bed bugs at libraryOne of the last safe comfort zones in our crazy world has been invaded. More and more we’re hearing about bed bugs being found in public libraries. Is nothing sacred?

Bed bugs end up in libraries in two main ways: 1) Books are loaned out to homes that have a bed bug problem. When the books are returned, a few bed bugs hitch a ride between the covers and are returned to the library as well. 2) Libraries are often frequented by homeless people, or those who live in less than ideal housing situations with bed bugs. Libraries provide a comfortable, climate-controlled place where individuals may spend hours at a time. These visitors may not even touch a book but can carry bed bugs into the library on their clothing or belongings. Bed bugs are later found at computer stations or in stuffed chairs or sofas. In some cases, libraries have banned individuals that were known to have introduced bed bugs.

Some libraries simply destroy infested. That seems a waste since the bugs can simply be removed, or the books can usually be successfully heat or cold-treated, or fumigated to kill bed bugs. Some libraries are being proactive, routinely inspecting books, using bed bug-sniffing dogs to check out the stacks, and steam-treating furniture.

Does this mean you have to stop going to the library? Not at all; the incidence of bed bugs in libraries is still extremely low, and rest assured that your library is well aware of the potential problem. Your risk of a library-induced bed bug infestation can depend on where and how you read books at home. Unfortunately, many of us read in bed, an ideal situation for a bed bug. If you typically have a pile of books on the floor or table at your bedside, you would be at higher risk of harboring a bed bug infestation than if your library books never leave the family room downstairs. What you read can make a difference, too. Best sellers that have been checked out frequently and have rested on many bedside tables are riskier than low circulation books.

You can reduce your risk of bringing bed bugs home from the library by inspecting the books before you check them out. Gently shake out the pages. Look especially along the spine of the book. Also check the space between the protective plastic sleeve or dust jacket and the book’s cover. You can usually see bed bugs. A fully-grown adult is about the size of an apple seed.

While books can be placed in a deep freezer to kill bed bugs or can be heat-treated, we don’t recommend that you try that on your own. You never know how a book’s binding will react to temperature extremes. Glues can soften; covers can warp or crack. Older, rare books are especially at risk of damage.

If you think you have a bed bug-infested library book, seal the book in a zip lock bag and contact your library. And by all means, if you know you have bed bugs in your home, be considerate of other library patrons. Don’t just place the books back into circulation. Libraries will usually make special arrangements for your books’ return if you think they may be infested.

Maybe all of this will be good news for the sales of e-readers like Kindle and Nook. So far, bed bugs haven’t found a way to invade those devices — as far as we know.

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