Archive for Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fall Book Sale canceled after inventory contaminated by bedbugs

September 11, 2013, 3:18 p.m. Updated September 11, 2013, 6:38 p.m.


The Friends of the Lawrence Public Library’s Fall Book Sale has been canceled because of a bedbug infestation in some of the books intended for sale.

The board governing the annual book sale, which was scheduled to begin in two weeks, voted Monday night to cancel the event. The sale is organized by the non-profit Friends of the Lawrence Public Library and was to be held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Sept. 26-29.

The bedbug problem was discovered last week, when the group received a call from a person who had donated books for the sale, said Ruth DeWitt, a Friends organizer. The person reported that his donated books had contained bedbugs, which book sale organizers were able to confirm after inspecting them.

DeWitt said the group has sought advice from pest control companies in handling the problem, removing the contaminated books and any others that could have been stored near them.

The donated books were never intermingled with the Lawrence Public Library’s collection, said Jeni Daley, a library spokeswoman. The Friends always kept the book sale donations separately, and the contaminated books have been quarantined in a semitrailer far from the library collection.

But cancelling the book sale does hurt the library financially. Each spring and fall, the book sale typically raises about $30,000 and the Friends usually donate about $70,000 to the library each year. The library uses that money for summer reading programs, author visits, and other activities, as well as increasing circulation.

Daley said the library has become dependent on that money over the years, but it's not clear yet what the effect of losing it will be. It's possible that some programs will have to be scaled back, or that there will be fewer of them. "In the short term, it certainly will affect us," Daley said. "But in the long-term, we hope to persevere."

DeWitt said the affected inventory likely won't be ready to sell even by spring. Of several thousand books that had been prepared for sale, something like two thousand have been quarantined and the rest have been cast under suspicion. Even books that were on sorting shelves not in direct contact with the infected books were boxed up and removed. The remainder may be fine, DeWitt said, but the sale can't go forward until organizers are certain it is safe. Even so, the group is planning to hold next year's Spring Book Sale as usual.

All of this, DeWitt said, comes from a contaminated donation that numbered fewer than 100 books.

No easy answer

The common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, has long been a pest, feeding on blood of sleeping humans at night. But the problem has been growing across the United States in recent years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While bedbug populations dropped dramatically in the middle of the 20th Century, they have bounced back at an alarming rate, overwhelming health officials. The parasites are not known to transmit disease, but their bites can cause red welts on the skin and can lead to other health problems such as skin infections and psychological distress.

Although the critters typically hide in bedding, or in other dark, warm crevices near beds, it’s no surprise to find them hiding in books, said Pete Haley, owner and operator of Haley Pest Control Inc. in Lawrence. “They like to be anywhere within 10 feet of where people are stagnant. I’ve seen hundreds of thousands of them in books,” Haley said. “It’s probably that woody kind of feeling, and it’s not slick.”

Getting rid of bedbugs is no easy matter, Haley said. The creatures are very active at night in seeking out new hosts, their tiny eggs stick to almost anything, and it’s difficult to be certain all of them are eradicated. Books are especially liable to be ruined by contamination, since pest control treatments involving heat or pesticides would likely ruin them anyway. “You have to be very careful,” Haley said. “There’s no good, hard, fast, easy way to solve it.”

For the time being, the Friends operation is suspended and is not accepting donations. Friends organizers are still working with pest control professionals to see what options they have in salvaging the contaminated books.

"The last thing we want to do is destroy our inventory," DeWitt said. "We're still looking at what we can do, the treatment options, and what is not cost-prohibitive."

The organization urges any members of the public who wish to donate materials to hold them until further notice, and only donate non-contaminated materials. When and how donations will resume will be posted on the library’s website,


Dusty Murphy 4 years, 8 months ago

At least he notified them and let them know instead of letting shame keep him quiet and passing bed bugs into other people's lives.

local_interest 4 years, 8 months ago

After they called and asked them about the bedbugs.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

From the story "the group received a call from a person who had donated books".

jimmyjms 4 years, 8 months ago

Hey, that is great. You know what would have been even more super-awesomer? Having a look at those books before they contaminated the entire sale.

George_Braziller 4 years, 8 months ago

Since the library remodeling seems to be moving at a snail's pace maybe there's still time to have a commercial walk-in freezer installed. Donations and returned books could go in there for 24 hours before donations go to storage and library books go back on the shelf.

webmocker 4 years, 8 months ago

Indeed, there is something to this suggestion.

"Freezers set to 0F are effective in killing bed bugs, but items must be left in the freezer for at least 4 days...The temperature of your freezer is very important. The lower the temperature, the less time needed to kill bed bugs."

shorttrees 4 years, 8 months ago

Freezer Trailers can reach and hold temps down to -10 F, which would be even more efficient than just 0. Wouldn't that be a reasonable option for saving most of the books? Run them through in weekly batches to ensure that they all got well below 0* and then held there for 4 days or longer.

Maybe a local trucking company (or companies) could work with them on this, as a charitable donation even?

matthew2600 4 years, 8 months ago

Thank god it wasn't the audio reader sale.

LogicMan 4 years, 8 months ago

Well that seals it. I resolve never to check out a book again from a library, or buy a used book without fumigating it.

CianMolloy 4 years, 8 months ago

In Wicklow Library in Ireland, where I live, some of the older books (in stock over 30 years) contain a slip of paper warning borrowers that when returning books they must inform the librarian if there has been any infectious diseases in the borrowers homes. I don't know if this would cover bed bugs, but the Wicklow librarian was quite bemused when I told her that my daughter had chicken pox and maybe the book should be destroyed as per regulations.

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

If the books are now in a semi trailer they could hope for several cold days this winter. Would that kill them all?

webmocker 4 years, 8 months ago

The website referenced above said that would not be a reliable option, even in Minnesota.

itsalive 4 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps a bonfire à la Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451

blindrabbit 4 years, 8 months ago

Book burning might be an appropriate answer to the problem and with the support of the present administration in Topeka, this would prevent any logical though and education from being foisted on the community.

No, really, has anybody looked into treating the books in a ethylene oxide chamber, much more effective than freezing and would kill off bacteria as well.

weeslicket 4 years, 8 months ago

put something like a metal trailer or shipping container in the parking lot of the current library. (not the parking garage for the new library) make sure that the container is made of metal, and not ventilated, and is mostly in sunlight for most of the day (i.e., to the south). put the books in that container. (hazmat suits, please) close said books inside containers. wait for a while.

open. air it out. continue as planned.

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