Pensioners, parents and children were evacuated from a library in London this week after a bedbug infestation was discovered in the furniture of the town centre landmark.
Dozens of bemused book lovers turned up to Ealing Central Library on Tuesday to drop off novels, only to be met with locked doors and a sign on the door warning of a “pest infestation” amid claims staff had refused to open up.
The notice read: “Due to a pest infestation, we have temporarily removed soft furnishings from public use. These seats are currently being treated with pest control chemicals.
“These chemicals will be applied while the library is closed and are safe for children and adults. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
Ealing Council confirmed there had been a bedbug outbreak at the library, which was first spotted last Tuesday and forced the building to close that day. A post on its social media said it was also closed on Thursday for “essential maintenance work”.
The building was otherwise open, including for a children’s book launch last Wednesday evening, until library-goers were forced to evacuate on Monday after more of the insects were spotted.
It will now stay closed until Thursday.
Huge thanks to @OmariMcQueen who came to visit Ealing Central Library to read from his amazing new book FANTASTIC FAMILIES. Thks also for taking the time out to sign books and have a word with everyone, was a big queue! Many thks to the wonderful @Emily_BookPR to help organise. pic.twitter.com/2m4jv2x6Za
— Ealing Libraries (@EalingLibs) October 26, 2023
A pensioner was among those told to leave the building immediately on Monday afternoon by a staff member over the tannoy, telling The Independent: “It was all very strange we’ve never been turfed out like that so quickly. Everyone on the computers had to leave.”
One local warned over the weekend: “Believe me this is true. I have seen the [bedbugs].
“They can live in the furniture and carpets and in the spines of books. The library closed twice this week and they are still there. The public has a right to know.”
Ealing Central library is closed today for essential maintenance work. Normal service is expected to resume on Thursday 2nd November. Apologies for any inconvenience caused.
— Ealing Libraries (@EalingLibs) October 31, 2023
Mother-of-one Louise Hamilton, 44, arrived looking to return their child’s Harry Potter book to find the library closed on Tuesday.
She told The Independent: “I don’t want to be rude but it can get quite dirty. When you go in lots of people come in here and it can get noisy.
“They should send an email to everyone in the system to tell us what is happening. They always tell us when we are late handing things back but we have heard nothing. I understand it is stressful but everyone is arriving confused as to what is going on.”
Another woman, who didn’t want to be named, said: “It is a betrayal. I was here last week and it was open on and off. They didn’t tell us anything about an infestation.
“There was a notice saying unforeseen circumstances it was to be closed but then it was open again. Last week they had taken all the cushions away but were still open.
“If they told us I would have gone to a different library. They didn’t say anything, there was just a general notice – I thought it was just a one-off but it’s still going on.
“It is disappointing if the staff knew but the customers didn’t. I didn’t suspect anything, they should have been honest. It can happen anywhere - a hotel or a library - but they kept it a secret. They are treating us like idiots.”
One local posted on the local Ealing Facebook group saying: “The library has reopened but I wouldn’t recommend taking any books out as the bugs may be in the books and once they get into your house they will spread like vermin.”
Speaking to The Independent, one bedbug expert warned it is possible for the insects to survive in books, although Ealing Council said none had been spotted in the library’s collection so far.
David Cain, founder and MD of Bed Bugs LTD and a qualified microbiologist, said: “Yes, they can live in books - often people read in bed or leave books by the side of the bed.
“The problem with libraries is that unless you decontaminate all the books just in case you don’t stop the infestation.
“Also chemical treatment of an unoccupied area does not work as there is nothing to draw them out. These situations are never as simple as spray and pray.
“In short what they are doing will not work and also without finding out which customers are introducing [bedbugs] you’re only band-aiding the issue.
“In 2014 we had a client who was regularly introducing bedbugs as she read five crime novels per week. In her case she switched to a Kindle. Although she loved books she did not want to get bedbugs.”
An Ealing Council spokeswoman confirmed the bedbug outbreak in the library’s soft furnishings.
Asked if staff will be checking returned books for infestations, she said: “Staff will be provided with instructions on how to identify them and what to do if they are detected, but so far there have been no issues [with books].”
“There were concerns expressed by library staff, which we have addressed by temporarily closing the library,” she added.
“The council is working closely with the corporate health and safety and the in-house pest control teams. Despite the treatments being safe, the council has decided to temporarily close the library to avoid concerns that library users and library staff might be having.”