Historically, pests have inflicted significant damage on library collections, as well as presenting potential health hazards for staff and researchers who work and study in library spaces. Food, trash, and/or moisture are major attractants that bring insects and other invertebrates as well as rodents into library collection storage areas. These pests then can feed on starch and/or protein components of library collections, leaving behind holes and stains as well as dust and other potentially harmful waste products. Prevention of this damage is an important part of an overall preservation plan and may be effectively combined with an environmental monitoring program that helps to manage temperature, humidity, and air quality.
In order to reduce the risk of pest damage, we recommend following an approach called Integrated Pest Management, which is a joint effort involving Facilities/Operations and library staff. This set of programmatic strategies emphasizes prevention activities such as sealing up entry points, careful monitoring and trapping, attentive housekeeping procedures, identification and professional consultation, temperature/ humidity control, and education of staff and researchers. Engaging in these activities reduces or even eliminates the need for chemical solutions to treat pest infestations.
Harvard Library Preservation Services works closely with Harvard’s Environmental Public Health (EPH) program to help libraries prevent and address pest infestations. Within the Environmental Health & Safety department, EPH provides expert advice and maintains a fact sheet with useful information about Integrated Pest Management specifically for libraries and museums.
Detailed information and additional resources may be found at MuseumPests.net, a website managed by the IPM Working Group, which is a collaborative network of various experts interested in issues surrounding integrated pest management in cultural heritage institutions. This group also hosts an open listserv (Pestlist) for discussion of IPM, pest treatment, and insect identification issues.