Bookworms, in the icky sense

I have a modest library of around a thousand books. None appear buggy (that is, I never witnessed a bug crawl out of one), and of those I’ve read so far, the only bug I’ve encounter has been a spider. However, some did come from buggy areas and just recently I discovered a silverfish scuttling across the floor (not in the library itself, but in the house). That has been the only sign I’ve seen of a bug problem, but it still worries me.

What best could I do to protect my books?

It’s been suggested to me to microwave each for around thirty seconds. That just seems risky to me, though. Might not it melt the glue? I must say to its credit, though, that I did cook some of the books I got recently from a very booklice infested store and that did seem to do the trick without damaging the books themselves.

I’ve also been told to scatter mothballs liberally. That may deter the bugs, but it would also deter me. I would like to be able to actually go near the books without getting a headache.

Any advice?

The signs of bug damage that you will see will probably be in the form of little holes in the pages. If you have a bug problem, you may have to fumigate. (When I say “you”, clearly I mean “your Orkin man”, of course.) Here’s a link to the part of the Library of Congress general public preservation FAQ that deals with insect infestation:

Something to consider in addition to a pest management solution is the environment your books are in already - if it’s too humid, you may be providing your many-legged little friends with food and growing a mold problem too, for example. If you eat near your books or leave food around there, it can also draw them. Check for ways bugs might enter the home, also - I don’t have a silverfish problem, but I live where the roaches grow big enough to carry your kids away on the wing, and they’re hard to keep out of the house. I never store boxes of books in the garage or anything because that’s practically inviting them in to eat the glue in the binding.

I would not microwave anything, particularly books that are damp or that have coated paper pages. Fumigation carries its own risks - it’s inconvenient, it can harm your materials, it’s expensive, etc. It’s better, in my mind, to isolate any volumes that have evidence of infestation, fix any environmental problems, try to seal up your house, and keep glue traps or something similar to monitor what’s crawling your bookshelves.

Here’s a bit on Integrated Pest Management, which is what libraries try to do to reduce the use of harmful chemicals by focusing on the environment that encourages pests. It mentions freezing as a way to kill your existing bugs, but urges caution.