The Hamilton Public Library has allotted $200,000 from its budget to stamping out bedbugs in 2013.
"We've opted to be as proactive as we can be," said Paul Takala, Hamilton Public Library CEO. "We've never had an infestation at any of our branches."
But sniffer dogs have been finding traces of the bloodsucking pests in Hamilton's libraries since 2011. The dogs can react to bedbug feces, larvae or shell casings. The library publishes bedbug inspection results online, and you can read them here. Each library branch is checked for the insects four times a year, and it costs around $2,000 each time.
'Hamilton is very badly infested. It's much worse than surrounding areas.' —Roger Burley, Aanteater Pest Control
In 2011, the library system spent just over $500 on bedbug prevention and treatment. That number skyrocketed to over $145,000 last year.
Takala says by virtue of the fact that people usually don't sleep in libraries, they're inherently low-risk for bedbug infestation.
But the pests can definitely survive inside a book, says Roger Burley, owner of Aanteater Pest Control and Wildlife Services.
In fact, bedbugs can survive for around a year without a food source. "They can live for 12 months inside your wallet," Burley said.
"But the chances of you bringing bedbugs home from the library are one in a million," he added. "They don't hang out in the library and jump on you while you're reading."
Not quite a bookworm
Sniffer dogs have found traces of bedbugs and bedbug eggs inside books at various library branches throughout the city. When that happens, the books are cleaned and treated with heat to kill the pests. Any books near them are treated, too.
That's the same way Burley's company treats houses and apartments in Hamilton. Rooms are heated to 45 C, hot enough to kill any bedbugs clinging to sheets or blankets.
But, Burley says, the checks the library has undertaken are symptomatic of a larger problem in the city. Aside from Hamilton, Aanteater also offers pest control services to Burlington, Oakville, Toronto, Mississauga, and Brampton. Out of all those places, Hamilton has the worst bedbug problem, he says.
"Hamilton is very badly infested," Burley said. "It's much worse than surrounding areas."
His company has been killing pests in the city for almost 14 years, and has seen bedbug levels almost double each year. Now, the problem is reaching a point of saturation, he says, meaning that almost everyone that is going to get bedbugs has them.
"It's always getting worse," he said, adding that high density, low-income housing in the city exacerbates the problem. Ninety per cent of the cases he ends up treating are in the downtown core.
That increasing problem is what caused the library to introduce its bedbug prevention program, Takala says. "It's symptomatic of a larger presence in the community."
The pest control funds are part of the library's 2013 operating budget, which was presented to city council on Thursday. The submission did not request an increase over last year's budget.
A previous version of this story said to afford the pest control cost increase, the library plans to hike late fees on books. To clarify, the library is just budgeting for increased revenue from overdue and lost books, not raising fees.Jan 25, 2013 5:47 AM ET