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Image by lblanchard
It’s a hard-knock life (for stuff)
What did the bookworm say to the library? It’s been nice gnawing you!
Okay, we admit: there’s nothing funny about destructive insects. Museums and libraries work hard to prevent pests from settling in — one reason why there’s no food and drink allowed in galleries.
You can see a latticework of holes in these encyclopedia volumes from Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers (Encyclopaedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts), published around 1780. These books were chomped by tunneling pests long before they came to our library. What we call "bookworms" can actually be one of several types of moths, beetles, or lice. They bore through leather and cloth bindings, or feed on the microscopic molds and fungi that grow inside books after exposure to moisture. In early modern China, some book-makers treated pages with arsenic to repel damaging insects. Today, infested collections may be treated with fumigation, but many conservators prefer to de-louse books using extreme temperatures — like freezing — rather than harsh chemicals.
Things Fall Apart: Exhibition at the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum