Bugs on books and papers? (submitted by email)


I've noticed little white bugs that appear on papers I have in storage and I'm afraid they may be deteriorating the treasure. They ONLY seem to accumulate around and on old newspaper stock, but nothing else. Any suggestions would help.

Thanks in advance!  ~ BSC



staudermans's picture

Sorry to hear that you may have an insect problem (or as we like to call them "pests"). It sounds as if you may have Booklice, which feed on fungi and mold and the starches found on papers. For a description of Booklice, go to this handy page by the University of Pennsylvania extension service: http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/booklice

Booklice and other pests thrive in high humidity -- and paper deteriorates more rapidly in high humidity -- so you must reduce the moisture in the environment. You can do this on a room scale by placing a dehumidifier into the space, or you can do it on a local scale by placing the affected materials into sealed plastic bags that have a desiccant in them. First, to clean off the bugs you will need to find a clean dry surface to gently brush or vacuum the bugs off of the papers. Follow the instructions on our forum regarding mold removal: http://siarchives.si.edu/services/forums/collections-care-guidelines-res...

Another resource that we use at Smithsonian Institution Archives is the website http://www.museumpests.net/

Good luck!

LockshinN's picture

Do you remember the song about the old woman that swallowed a fly, and then swallowed lots of other bigger and bigger creatures to get after that fly? Well, that is also a really good way to explain a key concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). You may or not see evidence of these bugs or their larvae actively eating your newsprint, but they are certainly eating something. If one of these critters were nibbling on your papers, you might also notice paper-colored or darker dust or frass (bug poop) around the object, or even molted carcasses of the pests themselves. The larvae or adult may move on, but their leavings become a potentially interesting food source for other insects, such as silverfish, drugstore beetles (dermestids), and cockroaches, which do feed on paper and leather and textiles. Those insects leave a more visibly destructive and messier trail, which in turn, can attract even larger pest animals.

As suggested by my colleague above, the first step is identification of the species, and then you can take steps to isolate and mitigate the problem. This might involve a number of different steps, including: cleaning the area and looking for nests or egg sacs; rehousing the objects into zip-closure polyethylene bags for the interim and discarding the original container if infested and it itself is not a sentimental or historic item; and then possibly freezing or using anoxic methods to starve the critters of oxygen (both of these methods are best left to a professional, but resources for doing so yourself are available). Visual examples of pest damage in paper and books and guidelines on eradication can be found at the very excellent site www.museumpests.net linked above.

If your object is reproduced elsewhere (such as a historic newspaper that is now available through a library microfilm or digitized online resource), you might even consider making a preservation photocopy and discarding the original, in favor of spending your disaster recovery funds on a more precious unique object that is similarly affected. If there are annotations or something else unique about the item, you may not wish to discard.

For more examples of pest and other damage, you may want to check out our Gallery of Horrors: When Bad Things Happen to Good Archives post, and the National Park Service's Conserv-O-Gram on Integrated Pest Management.

See also: How do I preserve my newspaper?

bobo130698's picture

Hi there, I have an estimated 500 years old handwritten manuscript on parchment by "Martin Luther". the manuscript carries several seals. I am wondering if I can email you a photo of the manuscript and have someone look into it and explain to me the background of the time it was written, what does the manuscript say and is it an authentic piece. Thank you very much!
My email: bobo130698@gmail.com
Bo Davis

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