Libraries under attack from bed bugs, urine-wielding vandal

The Vancouver library's bedbug problem is virtually under control, but has not been eliminated. Used to be the worst thing you could encounter in a public library was a book with a musty smell.

These days, though, there's a chance an outhouse smell may greet you when you pull a book down from the stacks, or maybe something crawling out from between the pages when you crack it open.

Should you be bringing rubber gloves on your next visit?

Perhaps, if you live in Leamington, Ont., where someone's been soaking library books in urine. Or in Vancouver, where bed bugs have made a reappearance at some library branches a year after a concerted effort to eradicate the pests.

CBC News reports staff at the Essex County Branch in Leamington have discovered 300 books ruined by urine, causing more than $3,000 damage.

[ Related: 300 library books found covered in urine ]

It's happened more than four times in the last three weeks, library chief executive Janet Woodbridge said, adding the damaged books were in an area out of staff sight and not often visited by the public. The frequency of the incidents has escalated, she said.

The books have been taken out of circulation and trashed.

Woodbridge said staff are now patrolling the stacks regularly hoping to catch the phantom urinator, whose motive is a mystery.

"They don't appear to be making an editorial statement," she told CBC News.

Meanwhile, more than half of the Vancouver Public Library's 22 branches have reported bed bugs a year after a previous infestation, the Globe and Mail reports.

The library found 41 of the critters in 12 locations this year, spokesman Stephen Barrington told the Globe. They were discovered as a result of new protocols put in place after live bed bugs were found in the library's Mount Pleasant branch last fall.

Since then, staff have been trained to look for the bugs and if they believe an item is infested, put it in a plastic bag, seal it securely and dispose of it.

The library is playing down the problem in a notice on its web site. Barrington noted the chances of discovering a bed bug is "extremely low," given the extensive square footage and the more than 6.5 million patron visits each year.

[ Related: Bedbugs battle still underway at Vancouver libraries ]

The problem last year extended to suburban libraries. Two branches at the Burnaby Public Library were treated for infestations last year and a "rigorous" anti-bed-bug strategy instituted that has reduced the incidence significantly, the Globe said.

Inspections are carried out every three months and detection dogs sweep each branch whenever bugs are found, deputy chief librarian Deb Thomas said. Problem books are boxed up and isolated, she said, adding the number has dropped to 18 from 45 in the last year. No live bugs were found.

A branch of the New Westminster Public Library was closed for a day last year after bed bugs were discovered.

Bed bugs are very hard to eliminate, even by experts.

Vancouver library patron Gail Meredith told CBC News her home became infested with bed bugs last spring, forcing her to move out for 10 days and spend $4,000 on extermination.

[ Related: Can drinking a glass of wine keep bed bugs away? ]

"The pest control people came to the conclusion that the only thing that was going on in my life that was likely to bring them in is my library books," Meredith said.

She still uses the library but "everything I bring in, I put in the freezer for four days, then I check it really carefully."