Bookworm is a general name for any insect that is said to bore through books. Contrary to their name, bookworms are not actually worms, but various types of insects including beetles, moths and cockroachs. The name bookworm comes from the many different types of beetle who bore into books during their larval stage. These larvae may appear to the untrained eye to be worms.
True book-borers are uncommon. Most non-larval "bookworms" are actually feeding on the book's leather or cloth-bindings, the glue used in the binding process, nibbling the edges of the paper or eating any fungi that have grown on the book. Others, like termites, carpenter ants, and wood boring beetles infect the shelves that books are on, and may begin to feed on the books themselves.
The term has come to have a second, idiomatic use; meaning someone who devours books metaphorically.
The booklouse or paperlouse are tiny (under 1 mm), soft-bodied, wingless insects in the order Psocoptera (usually Trogium pulsatorium) that feed on microscopic molds and other organic matter found in ill-maintained works, for example, in cool, damp, dark and undisturbed areas of archives, libraries, and museums. They will also attack bindings, glue, and paper. Despite their name, booklice are not really lice, as they do not feed on a living host. Many museums use pest control and keep books dry to prevent this from happening.
Other book-eating insectsEdit
Of the quarter million species of beetles, some adults damage books by eating paper and binding materials themselves. However, their larvae do the most damage. Typically eggs are laid on the books's edges and spine. Upon hatching, they bore into, and sometimes even through, the book.
- Common furniture beetle
- Deathwatch beetle
- The genus Gastrallus
- Indian bookworm beetle
- Australian spider beetle
- Cigarette beetle
- Drugstore beetle
These beetles have been know to feed on leather bindings.
- Furniture carpet beetle
- Museum beetle
- Common carpet beetle
- Varied carpet beetle
- Fur beetle
- Black carpet beetle
- Dermestes coarctatus
- Larder beetle
- Dermestes maculatus
- Dermestes vorax
- Khapra beetle
- Trogoderma versicolor
- Odd beetle
Termites are the most devastating type of book eating pest. They will eat almost every part of a book including paper, cloth, and cardboard, not to mention the damage that can be done to shelves. Termites can make entire collections unusable before the infestation is even noticed.
Some species of ants can damage books in a way that is similar to termites.
Moths that feed on cloth will also feed on bookbindings, decaying organic material (which includes paper), and mold.
Bookdamging cockroach species chew away at the starch in cloth bindings and paper. Their droppings can also harm books.
Pseudoscorpions love old dusty books where they can find their prey: The booklouse.
Pesticides can be used to protect books from these insects, but they are often made with harsh chemicals that make them an unattractive option. Museums and universities that want to keep their archives bookworm free without using pesticides often turn towards temperature control. Books can be stored at low temperatures that keep eggs from hatching, or placed in a deep-freezer to kill larvae and adults. The idea was taken from commercial food storage practices, as they are often dealing with the same pests. 
The term is also used idiomatically to describe an avid or voracious reader, an indiscriminate or uncritical reader, or a bibliophile. In its earliest iterations, it had a negative connotation, e.g., an idler who would rather read than participate in the world around them or a person who pays too much attention to formal rules and book learning. Over the years its meaning has drifted in a more positive direction.
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|Look up Bookworm in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "John Francis Xavier O'Conor, Facts about bookworms: their history in literature and work in libraries (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1898.)
- Dr. John V. Richardson Jr., PhD."Bookworms: The Most Common Insect Pests of Paper in Archives, Libraries, and Museums".
- "Timber Borers – Anobium & Lyctus Borers"
- "Study on integrated pest management for libraries and archives" – prepared by Thomas A Parker for the General Information Programme and UNISIST (Paris: Unesco, 1988)