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December 1996 Volume 16 Number 3
BUG-EYED BOOK BITERS:
by Rory M. Cory
Less common in Alberta, although still present is the Booklouse. These are mere
specks to the naked eye, but if there are other signs of damage noted above, a
microscopic search may reveal their presence. They are only 1-2 mm long and look
like ants with distended abdomens. Damp and mouldy collections are potential
food sources for these insects, so by keeping a collection dry and atmospheric
conditions relatively stable, the incidence of these insects should be very low.
It is unlikely that Silverfish will be found on any collections from Alberta, but
it is still possible, and it is a concern if a collection is being brought in
from a damper, warmer climate. As a rule of thumb, anywhere south of the 49th
Parallel is suspect (including Southwestern Ontario and the Maritimes). These
insects like to eat glue (as in some book bindings) mainly, but also paper itself
and even linen or cotton book bindings. They range between 3 and 13 mm in length
and have a silvery coating that brushes off when handled.
Prevention. At the Glenbow Museum these problems have been avoided by means of a prevention program. To date there has been no infestation of the library and archives, and very little insect material indeed has been found there. All materials entering the museum must undergo visual inspection for evidence of insects, and depending on the material it is then frozen at -30 C for one week after which it is reexamined and then refrozen if any signs of activity remain. This is repeated until no traces of insect life are left. The freezing process is necessary because even if all visible insect remains have been removed, there could still be thousands of microscopic eggs present which cannot be removed manually. Freezing at the prescribed temperature will kill all insect life stages.
What to do in the event of an infestation. When preventative measures are not feasible, building seals are unreliable, or something just goes wrong, an infestation may occur. Staff should be trained to look for the above signs while examining archival materials, but a low maintenance monitoring system can also be set up. At the Glenbow this consists of a series of glueboard traps (available through any local pest control company) placed at regular intervals through the storage area. These should be checked bimonthly to see what insects have crawled into them. If anything is found, chances are that nearby materials have been infested. Further glueboard traps can be set up in the immediate area to pinpoint the infestation, or a visual examination can ensue. To reduce the amount of time the infestation has to spread, the latter course of action is preferable.
Once the infested materials are found, they should be isolated immediately (archival boxes sealed inside bags are sufficient) and then put through the above freezing process. If proper facilities are not available on site, cold storage facilities can often be rented, or cold storage trucks called "reefer" trucks can be brought on site.
Caught in time, infestations are relatively easy to control. With the recent replacement of toxic chemical fumigants with the freezing process, there is no risk to human health. If proper preventative measures are in place, however, infestations should not arise.
We all know how damaging light, water, hand oils and rough handling can be to archival materials. So the next time a patron brings a box of ratty looking papers to your attention, be sure you really do look closely "between the lines".
Edwards, Stephen R. et. al. (Ed.) Pest Control in Museums: A Status Report (1980). Association of Systematics Collections, 1981.
Milne, Lorus and Milne, Margery. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996.
Strang, Thomas J.K. "A Review of Published Temperatures for the Control of Pest Insects in Museums" Collection Forum 8 (2), 1992, pp. 41-67.
Strang, Thomas J.K. "Guidelines for Museum Pest Insect Control - Low Temperature" Canadian Conservation Institute Note 3/2, 1993.
Ward, Philip R. Getting the Bugs Out: Museum Methods Manual 4. The Friends of The [British Columbia] Provincial Museum, 1976.