Fall Book Sale canceled after inventory contaminated by bedbugs

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, lawrencepubliclibrary.org.