Pest Patrol

The quarterly pest management report, compiled and distributed by the Newberry’s conservation team, is something that library staff have come to eagerly anticipate finding in their inboxes every three months. (Few activities demonstrate the conservators’ commitment to preserving our collections quite like their fearless encounters with spiders and silverfish.)

Each report documents the number of pests that have crawled or scurried into 100 traps set strategically throughout the library (both collection and non-collection areas), as well as where they came from. In addition, the reports provide a helpful table that organizes all the insects into an evocative taxonomy, ranging from “ants” and “book lice” to “moths” and, my personal favorite, “over 8 legs.”

In response to my interest in how these reports are made, Virginia Meredith, Conservation Technician, and Henry Harris, Conservation Services Assistant, were kind enough to allow me to join them for their most recent pest patrol.

The process began in the Conservation Lab, where Henry had assiduously assembled 100 new traps, each labeled according to its destination either in the stacks (where the Newberry’s collection resides) or the Cobb building (where our offices, reading rooms, and galleries are located).

From the lab, we ventured into the stacks. On each floor, Henry and Virginia found the old traps, clinically scanned their contents, and replaced them with the new traps. Because the stacks building is climate-controlled, it yields relatively few pests. (According to the previous pest management report, only 8% of the 996 pests collected by our conservators came from this part of the building.)

Most of the action occurs in “the link,” which connects the stacks and the Cobb building, or in the Cobb building itself. As we made our way out of the stacks, the traps became more densely populated. One spider that had been caught sent shivers down my spine; it hardly phased Henry and Virginia.

“What we find in these traps helps to inform the alterations we make to our climate-control settings and extermination program,” Henry explained.

Once we had finished combing the entire library, I went to the staff lounge and attempted to forget what I had just seen so I could eat my lunch. Meanwhile, my pest patrol companions returned to the lab to analyze the results and begin compiling the next report.

By Alex Teller, Director of Communications and Editorial Services