Pests of Museums, Libraries, and Historic Buildings
Preservation and display of documents, fabrics, and other items are needed to help conserve our history and teaching future generations. Hence, it is essential that these items are monitored and protected from insect damage. Pest management in a museum, library, and/or historic building setting must be carefully carried out to help prevent any damage to artifacts and other items, especially from insects that eat paper and/or fabric.
By: Dr. Stephanie Richards, Medical Entomologist
How are pests controlled in museums?
Helping prevent and control pests in a museum setting is conducted in a similar manner as one would in a residential or commercial setting. An integrated pest management approach in conjunction with pest control professionals should be taken that includes principles such as:
- Routine surveillance/identification of pests
- Setting action thresholds
- Methods for helping prevent infestations
- Control measures
- Evaluation of control measures
If pest species are properly identified, knowledge of pest biology can help professionals design an appropriate plan to control the pests.
Pests may damage or destroy items through chewing and/or excrement left behind. In some cases, pests (e.g., rats, ants) can cause safety issues by chewing on wires. Care must be taken to help prevent damage to artifacts or other materials from pests.
What are some pests of biological materials?
In museums, there may be items, such as preserved insects, plants, animal skins/fur, mummies and/or textiles that must be protected. In these cases, moths and/or beetles may become an issue, if not treated properly. Museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History, report that mummified specimens, entomological specimens or even paper labels or adhesives should be regularly monitored for pests to help prevent the spread of issues to other sensitive areas of the museum.
Some pests of these biological materials include:
- Beetles (e.g., carpet beetles, skin/hide beetles, biscuit beetles, cigarette beetles, spider beetles)
- Moths (e.g., clothes moth)
Clothes moths and carpet beetles may inhabit dormant chimneys, attics or exist under floor boards of historic buildings.
What are some pests of books and paper?
The paper in archived books, book covers (e.g., leather), and/or book bindings may become infested with pests. Some examples of pests include:
- Beetles (e.g., biscuit beetle, cigarette beetle, spider beetle)
Both silverfish and booklice require high humidity for survival, hence this biological knowledge may inform management and control measures. Climate regulation (e.g., cooler temperatures, repair leaky plumbing, and/or use a dehumidifier) and cleanliness (e.g., dusting and cleaning to help reduce fungi) of archives may reduce the numbers of silverfish and booklice.
What are some pests of furniture?
Furniture or other wood products can also be impacted by pests. In these cases, beetles are examples of pests that may be involved.
Termites can also be an issue in historic buildings or other structures as they are known for ingesting wood and wood products.
What are some examples of possible treatments?
Treatments should be customized based on the type of material being treated and the extent to which the area is infested. Pest control professionals can be consulted to design and implement a surveillance based integrated pest management approach customized for each situation/location.
Dead flies and dust may provide food for pests, hence cleanliness is an important part of an integrated pest management approach. Furthermore, before new historic items are introduced into a collection, these items should be inspected for pests and treated as necessary to help avoid introduction of new pest populations.
If an item is suspected of having a pest issue, it may be isolated in a sealed bag and placed on a white sheet of paper or other material for monitoring. Over time, if evidence (e.g., live insects, excrement, cast exoskeletons) of arthropods are observed on the white sheet (e.g., live arthropods, excrement, etc.) the item can be treated, as necessary.
Removing oxygen from the environment is a treatment sometimes used in museum collections. This treatment involves properly sealing items into enclosures, vacuuming the air out of the enclosed area and introducing oxygen depleting materials, creating an anaerobic environment that will help remove pests.
When necessary, surveillance-based targeted use of pesticides can be used as part of an integrated pest management approach. In all cases, proper identification of pests, documentation of control measures and efficacy of treatments should be monitored to help insure that documents, artifacts and other items are properly protected.