Bookworm. The first image that probably comes to mind would be people that have been nicknamed ‘bookworms’ for spending days reading entire libraries of materials. Instead I am talking about beetle larvae, nicknamed bookworms, that can cause havoc on anything paper based in libraries and archives. As their name suggests, they are especially fond of the glues used in the bindings and spines of books.

Bookworm, conservation, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
A spine and bindings of a book effected by bookworm damage

Bookworms love an environment that has high relative humidity. There are several types of worms found but they are generally about 0.1 to 0.2 inches in length. An infestation can be difficult to get rid of and is usually detected when some damage to the materials has already occured. This is due to the fact that if a library for example is not used on a regular basis, the bugs can easily go undetected inside the books.

Bookworm droppings, conservation, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Bookworm droppings that came out by gently tapping a book spine that had been effected by the larvae

Once detected, but if live larvae is not present, the affected areas need a very thorough cleaning. Individual items should also be thoroughly cleaned by using a museum vacuum. Since bookworms love a damp environment, the objects should then be aired. The most efficient way of thoroughly drying them would probably be to freeze the affected books individually in vacuum bags after cleaning. And as with any other conservation process, it really pays to be patient and treat a book at a time.

When live larvae is present, the objects and areas affected should of course also be very thoroughly cleaned. There are some methods suggested on the web and in conservation literature in regards to how live larvae and eggs should be treated. I don’t personally have experience in this. A single book can, for example, be treated by putting it in an air-tight container/box surrounded by cotton wool soaked in ether. Treatments should be repeated every few weeks to make sure the eggs are also killed. The eggs are usually present at the edges of the cover on the spine and the hatched larvae usually tunnels up the spine and makes its way directly under the cover of the book. The damage caused is normally visible as small holes on the spine or pages of the book.

Bookworm, conservation, University of Brighton Design Archives, Sirpa Kutilainen
Spine and bindings after a thorough cleaning with a museum vacuum

Also, to clarify – although the inserted images are taken by me, they are not taken of books stored at the Design Archives or in the Max Gill collection of objects for the forthcoming exhibition.


  1. Alan

    When you say ether you must have some specific ether in mind – could you clarify this either as a chemical formula or commercial brand name product?

  2. Sirpa Kutilainen

    Hi Alan
    Thanks for reading the blog! I am by no means an expert on book conservation and as stated above, don’t have any first hand experience in treating book worm with larvae… However, ether usually refers to diethyl ether/ethyl ether.
    If you have an issue you are dealing with, it is definitely best to seek advise from a book conservator – you can find Accredited book conservators near your area through the ICON (Institute of Conservation) Conservation Register ( Dealing with ethers without the proper training is definitely not advised and they would also need to be disposed of according to safety standards.
    I’m not sure if this comment really helps you at all but thank you for taking the time to read and write!
    All the best,

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