SALT LAKE CITY — Bedbugs have gotten attention recently for having found their way into some libraries around the nation. The parasitic creatures can hide themselves and their eggs in the spines of hardcover books, crawling out at night to feed or find themselves a new home. Some librarians say the attention has been hyped, though.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that multiple libraries have had problems with bedbugs recently and "libraries are scrambling to deal with the problem." The Los Angeles Central Library had a scare in September when a patron found a bug walking across the page of the novel she had just taken home. She questioned library personnel, who said they had had reports of the bugs from all over, but "hadn't heard they'd gotten to Literature yet," CBS Los Angeles reported at the time.
A library at the University of Washington had a similar problem this fall while checking recently returned books. Librarians found spotting on the books' spines and discovered the bedbugs. Concerned about the possibility of a massive infestation, the library froze 4.5 million of its 7 million books at about 18 degrees below zero to kill the bugs.
"We also brought in a bedbug sniffing dog shortly thereafter to make sure all our facilities had been cleared," librarian Stephanie Lamson told WTVR.
In Kansas, dogs were brought into a Wichita library after a patron complained of being bit by a bedbug. And the Brooklyn Public Library has reported localized infestations, as well.
Despite the recent occurrences, some librarians say most libraries are merely taking precautions, and that bedbugs in libraries will not become a widespread issue because they don't support long-term habitation by the creatures.
"Libraries, in fact, are not good environments for bedbugs because — and this is gross — they need human blood to survive because they come out at night and we don't have human beings here in our buildings here at night," Sandy Horrocks with the Free Library of Philadelphia told KYW-TV.
Salt Lake City Public Library spokeswoman Julianne Hancock said the libraries have had a few minor instances of bedbugs, but have not had a wide-scale problem. She said librarians she spoke with across the country were disappointed by the article in the Times, saying it seemed to imply the problem is epidemic, when in fact, instances are "few and far between."
"As a large public institution, we understand we are going to be exposed to bedbugs and other things people may bring into the building," Hancock said. "But in our experience, these cases have all been minor, limited, isolated incidences that we've been able to deal with on a case-by-case basis."
Hancock said the majority of cases are discovered when books are returned to the library, and that the books are then disposed of.
"Members of the public should not be fearful of something potentially happening when they use our resources," she said. "Like anything else, these types of things are going to be encountered in a public space. But I haven't seen a major increase in these cases, and none of my peers I've spoken with have seen one, either."