News from the Dean: An Itchy Subject

In the September 13, 2016 UNews article “Bugs Bed Down in Books”, the campus learned of the presence of bed bugs in the Miller Nichols Library.   We understand that this topic makes people ‘itchy’ even thinking about it.  We take the presence of any pest in the libraries very seriously.  I want to assure you that, while we have found some bed bugs, we do not have an infestation.  Our first order of business is always to take care of the problem as expeditiously as possible and in the most appropriate way for the particular issue at hand.  We have done that with this particular pest.    

What’s the real story on bed bugs?

• They do not carry disease or health risks.

• Their bites are itchy and annoying but not a health concern unless you scratch them and they become infected.

• They can be difficult to eradicate but can be killed by high heat, very cold temperatures, or 91% rubbing alcohol applied directly.  Heat treatments kill both the bugs and their eggs. 

• They are hitchhikers and get from one place to another via people or things.  On their own, they don’t travel far.  Keep items like back packs off the floor.  

• They are common in such places as cinemas, hotels, dormitories, apartments, office buildings, … and libraries. 

• They have become more common since the 1990s across the country and Kansas City has seen an upsurge in reports of bed bugs in the last few years.  See the UNews article published in Nov. 1, 2010.  Education about bed bugs is the first best step in keeping them under control.

Does Miller Nichols Library have an infestation?

No.  An infestation is a concentration of nests of bed bugs which we have not found.  In fact, since January 2016, we have had only 21 books returned by library users that had evidence of bed bugs out of thousands of circulating books.  That said, the presence of even one bed bug is unwelcome.  We take aggressive action to minimize and eliminate the presence of bed bugs within the library.  

What is the library doing to proactively protect library users and library materials? 

• All books are checked for evidence of bugs before they are checked out and when they are returned.  We do not check out a book if there is evidence of bed bugs.  We will request the book for the library user on interlibrary loan instead.  

• For books that are returned that have live bugs, we will charge a $15 damaged book fee to the person who checked out the book if it was heat treated. This is not to be punitive or to even recoup costs but to convey the message that keeping the bed bugs in check is something that we all need to take seriously.  We do talk to each person who has returned a book with bed bugs to make sure they have information on containing the situation for their own good.

• We heat treat all books and furniture and steam clean carpet when bugs are found or reported. 

• We work with Student Affairs/Residential Life to educate students on how to recognize when they have pests in their residences and how to deal with the problem so we can reduce the spread.  If we know a student has returned a book with bed bugs, we will work with Student Affairs to ensure they have the support they need to address the problem where they live.  

• We have established an ongoing schedule of canine inspections with a pest control company 2-3 times a year.  The best way to detect bed bugs is with specially trained dogs that sniff out the bugs and their eggs.  Anything determined to have bugs are immediately quarantined and heat treated.  We have had few items of furniture identified by the dog in any of these inspections.  When the dog alerts us to an area of the book stacks, he can’t be precise enough to identify a specific book, we immediately remove all the books in the vicinity for heat treatment.  

How do we get rid of bed bugs?

The best means of exterminating the bugs is through heat treatment.  We have two heat treatment ovens, one that is suitcase size in which we can treat a few books, and one that is large enough to heat treat furniture or a couple of carts of books.  We also have a steam cleaner to clean upholstery and carpet. We treat any furniture that has been reported by either discarding it or by heat treating it.  If it is a book, we immediately put it in a zip lock bag and heat treat it.  We keep records of which books have been heat treated.  

What can you do to deal with bed bugs?

• If you identify any bugs in the library, leave the item where it is and immediately contact someone at the Service Desk.  

• If you have them in a residence hall or dorm, contact Residential Life at 816-235-8840.

• If you live in any other university housing or find them in other university buildings, contact Facilities at 816-235-1354.  

• Contact Student Affairs if you do not live on university property.  They can provide resources to help you. 

• Keep your belongings off the floor. 

• If you think you have bed bugs in your clothing, wash and dry your clothes at a high temperature. 

• Check out the EPA’s web site for further information:

 Why hasn’t the University been more forthcoming about this issue?

Along with others on campus, we are grappling with how to determine when a problem such as this is big enough that we need to let the public know and when its extent is small enough that we simply take care of the problem, much like we do with any other building problem. While bed bugs are not a public health problem, they are scary and bothersome to people and need to be dealt with as quickly as possible.  Our first priority is to address the problem and eliminate the bugs right away.  

We have also been working with others on campus to educate people on this issue to minimize the spread of bed bugs on campus and, hopefully, in our homes.  We have materials to hand out to people and readily answer questions as we interact with library users who report bed bugs or ask about them. Given the fact that bed bugs are much more common, it is time for us to have a campuswide effort to educate everyone on how to keep this nuisance at bay.  

Please feel free to contact me, Bonnie Postlethwaite, or Cindy Thompson, Director of Public Services, if you have questions or concerns.