Below is a great article written by David Reevely of the Ottawa Citizen talking about the impact of bedbugs on the Ottawa library system. It sounds like the library administrators across Canada are making a valiant effort to keep bedbug infestations to a minimum but bedbugs are a complex issue and it is nearly impossible to entirely keep bedbugs out of libraries.
The resurgence of bed bugs in Ottawa has touched city libraries, with periodic infestations at the main downtown branch and the small one on Rideau Street, according to library administrators.
The most recent report was of “bedbug activity” in a book at the main branch just last week, said Elaine Condos, the library system’s manager of system-wide services and innovation. (She’s also responsible for the main branch, and will be the acting chief librarian when Barbara Clubb retires at the end of the year.) “Bedbug activity” means dead bugs, larvae or droppings, though not actual live bugs.
“Ottawa Public Health has been taking the lead,” Condos said, including running a training session for library staff about a month ago. It’s not that different, she said, from training staff to deal with difficult patrons or other routine troubles in modern big-city life. The bed bug population is thought to have increased dramatically over the past decade or so with more frequent travel and, especially, reduced use of pesticides. Last May, the health department reported a doubling in the number of bed bug complaints between 2009 and 2010. They’re a serious problem in social housing and plenty of high-end landlords and hoteliers have spent small fortunes trying to eradicate them.
Bed bugs can be a real nuisance but the health agency doesn’t formally consider them a health threat, because they don’t carry disease and their nocturnal bites, while unpleasant, aren’t deadly. Condos said each library branch has been supplied with Ziploc bags and rubber gloves for library staff to use if they encounter a book with evidence of bed bugs in it. And they call in the exterminators contracted with the city’s public-works department.
It’s easy for bed bugs to make it into a library. Circulating books spend weeks at a time in people’s homes before coming back to the shelves. All sorts of people enter, linger with books and magazines and computers on the furniture, and leave to make way for more. Ottawa’s public library prides itself on being a haven for people from all walks of life, including those who visit mostly for some warmth and quiet human contact, let alone the free enlightenment.
“They are the living room of the downtown and you get a real colourful cast of characters coming in the front door,” said Councillor Jan Harder, who chairs the library board. In an environment like that, there’s no way to keep all bugs out forever. But on the other hand, libraries aren’t terribly nice places for bedbugs to stay and breed: the critters are most active when they feed at night, when typically there’s nobody around, and they like to sleep close to their food sources.
At the same time, it’s unusual for bed bugs to make their way onto clothes that are actually being worn — more typically, they’d find their way into travellers’ suitcases or clothing that’s been stored. It’s not impossible that they could ride home on a library patron but it’s not likely, either.
Last October, libraries in Burnaby and New Westminster, B.C., were closed several days for pest control when patrons found live bedbugs in their books, and a library user in Vancouver reported finding some, too. Earlier in the year, Edmonton dealt with bedbugs in three libraries, though each outbreak was considered isolated and minor. Similar incidents have been reported in Toronto libraries and the Grande Bibliothèque in downtown Montreal, which has also, from time to time, dealt with lice.
In the case of a real infestation, professional exterminators steam-clean the affected area and either dispose of or gently bake books that might have bugs in them — temperatures of more than about 45 C kill bedbugs. (In Ottawa, “we throw them away,” Condos said, and no full closure of a branch has ever been required.) Staff are told to give returned books a careful once-over before reshelving them, just to be sure. It’s a less awful process than evicting the bugs from a home where people routinely sleep, which often entails buying new mattresses, harshly laundering or discarding a lot of clothes and vacating while the exterminators work.
Club and Condos said besides routine cleaning and occasional exterminator visits, the library has addressed the bedbug situation by buying more “hard-surface” furniture instead of soft upholstered pieces. The newer stuff is harder for bed bugs to hide in and it’s more durable and easier to clean.
“It’s just like in nursing homes and hospitals,” Clubb said. “Any institution where you have a lot of people moving through and they’re spending a lot of time.”
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