Bug vs. Book: The Eternal Struggle

Curator's Note

“Book Care,” a video showcasing the pitfalls of mishandling library books, is the product of a partnership that includes the University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Department, George A. Smathers Libraries’ Preservation Department, and the Office of Academic Technology employees as part of an initiative to create relevant student programming to be broadcast via the campus cable system. Although the full twenty minute clip is standard educational viewing, “Books vs. American Cockroaches,” seen here, combines the more eye-catching scenes from the video with Creative Commons-licensed music to create something revolting yet mesmerizing while magnifying the ugly effects of book neglect. The variations of these video clips reflect the ways in which librarians are expanding the standard approach to academic research services to appeal to the modern student. In addition to the traditional reference desk, librarians are now available via email, instant message, chatroom, Facebook, and Second Life in hopes that patrons will seek the help they need if given a variety of options from which they may select the one that is most convenient—or even simply accessible, as in the case of distance learners—to them. Likewise, “Books vs. American Cockroaches” offers a simplified version of the explanation in “Book Care”: in the battle between books and bugs, the bugs clearly have the upper hand.


As information literacy becomes a more important part of college curriculum and as libraries shift from places that hold books to information access points--with research help, courses, and physical spaces conducive to accessing information--libraries have been exploring and rapidly adopting new technologies. The changes to librarianship from those new technologies are widespread and widely varied, but there are always bugs in the system. Even if there aren't technologically induced bugs, climates like Florida always have bugs and land grant institutions like the University of Florida have agriculture as part of their core missions. Agriculture in the broad sense includes many areas of farm and home, and bugs. In case anyone is wondering just where the roach in the video fits with other roaches in Florida, "Goodby Mr. Roach" includes a set of labeled roach photos. Apparently, this video is a bit of a fiction because American Cockroaches won't eat books unless they're starving or unless the book is soaked with something tasty. For the video Cathy Martyniak soaked the book in beer, which roaches love, to make sure they gobbled it in the time available for filming.

Preservation of book materials is one of the more expensive and most often overlooked aspects of library work. Intellectually valuable materials -- especially those that are centuries-old and contain chemicals palatable to bugs -- are constantly at risk of becoming some arthropod's lunch. While this video is amusing in its presentation, with a tongue-in-cheek techno soundtrack, to a library professional, it is truly disturbing. Knowing the horrible things a few hungry insects can do to a priceless volume gives me shivers, to say the least.

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