Bedbugs a wake-up call for Waterloo region libraries

The Kitchener and Waterloo public libraries have never had bedbug infestations, but recent infestations in southwestern Ontario have officials at both of the region’s public libraries considering their own preparedness.

Bedbugs were found in Essex County libraries this week

A bed bug is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

The Kitchener and Waterloo public libraries have never had bedbug infestations, but recent infestations in southwestern Ontario have officials at both of the region's public libraries considering their own preparedness.

Earlier this week, the Essex County Library system, which serves several rural municipalities surrounding Windsor, said staff found bedbugs at the library's Leamington branch.

Leamington deputy mayor Hilda MacDonald said on the library's Facebook page that bedbugs were "also in other branches, not just Leamington."

The Essex County Library temporarily closed all 14 of its branches in order to fully assess the issues.

A potential concern in any public building 

According to pest control specialists, whereever people are, bedbugs could be as well. 

"They can be introduced in a purse, in a book ... bedbugs are great hitchhikers and there are lots of opportunities to travel," said Michael Heimbach, director of business development with Abell Pest Control.

"Books go home, they maybe sat beside somebody's bed, a bedbug crawls in it and then they go back to the library," Heimbach said. "They're not likely to establish themselves in the library as a population because they wouldn't be able to feed, but the issue is that someone else could take out the book and that bedbug could go home with them."

Though he has seen bedbugs several times in libraries, Heimbach said they are not necessarily more prone to bedbug infestations than any other public building. 

How prepared is Kitchener-Waterloo?

Officials at libraries in Kitchener and Waterloo agree: Bedbugs are a concern that needs to be addressed locally as well.

"We are aware it's a possibility," said Dale Dyce, manager of marketing and communications at the Kitchener Public Library. "Staff know what a bedbug looks like, and it's just a matter of visually inspecting the materials and trying to confirm that there is nothing located in them."

But that can be a challenge for a library system the size of Kitchener's.

"You have hundreds of thousands of items going through [the city libraries] every day," he said. "But it is something we will be looking at to see if there is more we can do on an ongoing basis."

Dyce said the Kitchener Public Library also uses hard surface plastic and other "bedbug resistant" furniture.

Laurie Clarke, CEO of the Waterloo Public Library, said staff are making similar considerations in light of this week's news. 

"I guess everyone has to be vigilant," Clarke said. "It is probably something that we will look into a little bit more closely and make sure we have good procedures in place."

The Waterloo Public Library already checks for bedbugs when books are returned.

"If there's ever any suspicious material, that's something that would go a bit farther on the identification," Clarke said. "We have never really had anything come across our desks that has triggered that."

Watch for signs 

Heimbach said the key to avoiding a major bedbug problem is to know the signs of an infestation early.

"They multiply very quickly if they have a food source, which is going to be you," Heimbach said. "Act quickly before they establish a population."

Facts about bed bugs

  • Wingless, reddish-brown, blood-sucking insects that are oval shaped and look somewhat like an apple seed.
  • Live four months to one year.
  • Can survive for long periods without a blood meal.
  • Eggs are whitish, pear-shaped and approximately the size of a pinhead.

With files from CBC Windsor


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