December 6, 2012

Bedbugs in libraries and other articles you probably should not read


You should probably stop reading this right now.

How often have you compulsively brushed at imaginary tickles on your skin today? Only a few times? None? Let’s see if we can remedy that. You may want to sit down. Unless you are reading this in a library, in which case you may want to stand very much up.

Wednesday the Home and Garden section of the New York Times ran a piece about the spread of bedbugs in furniture and books at public libraries. In spite of the frantically murmured prayers that sussurated in quiet rooms from coast to fearful coast, the piece was not a firm reassurance that no libraries have ever had or will ever have bedbugs. Rather, it seems that some libraries have indeed had bedbugs. That’s right. More than one library in the U.S. has had more than one bedbug.

The problem is by no means endemic, and libraries seem to be taking it all in stride.

Forty-eight hours after a patron complained of being bitten by a bedbug in a lounge chair at a library in Wichita, Kan., Cynthia Berner Harris, the library’s director, brought in a bedbug-sniffing dog to pinpoint problem areas. Later, she heat-treated all of the furniture in public areas, in addition to removing the infested chairs.

[L]ibraries are training circulation staff members to look for carcasses and live insects. Some employees treat suspect books with heat before re-shelving them, to kill bedbugs, which are about the size of an apple seed when fully grown. Others vacuum the crevices of couches, and some furniture is being reupholstered with vinyl or leatherette to make it less hospitable to insects.

Librarians are taking even more incredible measures, including buying special boxes to, effectively, bake their books. Others are putting them in the freezer. It would be tempting to call all of this more than sufficient if every reader did not know, in their heart of hearts, that the only true solution is to band together as a nation, redirect all national resources, develop whatever technologies necessary, in short, to do whatever it takes to strap any afflicted library and its surrounding town or major metropolitan center onto a rocket — probably a pretty big one — aimed at the sun.

One can, I believe, read the piece fully aware that in gathering such scant reports of bedbug activity across years and a continent, it is striving pretty mightily to gin up a trend topic. After all, even a cursory search of the internet shows that similar alarmist articles appear frequently, and date back to 2007 or earlier. At least in New York City, the heightened paranoia is second nature by now. After all, our bedbug problem is severe enough that it warrants stylish flash outbreak-mapping time lapse animation. One can also, I believe, read the article knowing that ANY reports of bedbugs in libraries, even any mention of countermeasures against the same, is way, way, too many, and that no piece of breathless squeam-mongering is in fact alarmist ENOUGH. It’s not that librarians aren’t doing their utmost. It’s just that I would rather not have known. Sarah Weinman may have summed it up best when she tweeted:




Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.