UW Libraries and Bed Bugs

FAQ about University of Washington Libraries handling of bed bugs

On December 5, 2012, the New York Times ran an article by Catherine Saint Louis about bed bugs in libraries.

The University of Washington Libraries was mentioned in this article – specifically, our response to two incidents in August 2012 involving bed bugs in library materials. Since August, there have not been any further reports of bed bugs.

Here are answers to questions you may have about this issue:

Q: How did you discover the bed bugs?
A: Libraries staff noticed the bed bugs when processing returned books at one of our libraries in August 2012. It is standard procedure to look over returned materials for any damage. In this case, what appeared to be small black spots near the spine of the book led to the identification of bed bugs.

Q: Who was notified?
A: Libraries staff contacted UW Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for identification of the pests and remedy.  Libraries Preservation was also contacted since library collections were affected.  All staff were reminded of general procedures for insect pests and provided with additional information on identifying bed bugs and bed bug damage.

Q: What was done?
A: The books and any pests were isolated and sealed in plastic bags until they were treated.  The pests were killed by freezing them in plastic bags using a -27 Celsius (-18 Fahrenheit) freezer.  They were frozen for seven days, thawed within their sealed boxes for six days, and frozen again for seven days.  
This was a careful approach, as lab research indicates that bed bugs are killed by direct one-hour exposure to -16 Celsius.
As a precaution, a bed bug-sniffing dog was brought in to make sure there were no signs of bed bugs in affected areas.  The dog found no evidence of bed bugs.

Q: Have there been any other incidents?
A: Since August, there have not been any further reports of bed bugs.

Q: What can students and faculty do to prevent this problem? What if someone finds pests in a book?
A:  If you notice insects in library materials, or if your library materials have been exposed to bed bugs or other pests, please put the items in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and contact a UW Library.  Please do NOT return these items to book drops.

Q: Do other libraries have this problem?
A: Libraries and museums all over the world have books and artifacts that are damaged by mold, vandalism, water damage – and pests.

Q: Is this a problem throughout the UW Libraries and campus?
A: No, this was an isolated incident specific to several returned library books.

Q: How did bed bugs get from a bed to a book? Are they attracted to paper?
A: Bed bugs are attracted to dark, tight places. Most likely the library patron had a significant number of bed bugs in her/his residence, and the bed bugs migrated to the book.

Q: What will be done in the future?
A: Libraries staff will continue to be on alert for bed bugs and other pests as materials are returned, following best practices for isolating and eliminating the problem.