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Lice outbreak reported at SOU library

The Southern Oregon University library is mostly back to normal after having its couches and upholstered chairs twice cordoned off with tape and sprayed for lice in December and January.

A story in the school newspaper, The Siskiyou, made the body lice issue public. It quoted Jim Rible, systems librarian, as saying he and the staff are unsure of the cause, “as most students visit the library on any given week, and many people of the homeless community come in for the warmth, computers and books.”

Rible said he never has seen lice in the library in his 30 years there.

Affected areas were quarantined for three to five days, said Mallory Wilkerson of Hannon Library, and treated with Lysol, a disinfectant containing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and other chemicals.

The SOU Environmental Health & Safety people came and instructed staff, and the building is now lice-free, Wilkerson added. “We’re aware of no lice now. It’s a pretty common happening in public places. We have staff on alert in case it pops up again. The building manager is inspecting every day.”

Junior Emy Rawley, who works at the library’s front desk and has a class in the building, said, “I definitely don’t sit on the sofas. It’s icky to think about.”

Rawley, who also is the editor of The Siskiyou, assigned the lice story to a student writer. She added that since the episodes, “People keep coming in. I wouldn’t say there are many homeless. People need somewhere to keep warm, and there are more in the winter.”

Wilkerson noted the Hannon Library is a Federal Depository Library, with multitudes of federal documents and publications. As such, it must be free and open to the public, not just students or any other group.

“Anyone is able to come in and access anything, any community member, as long as they abide by our code of conduct,” Wilkerson said. The code prohibits animals (except service animals), noise, abusive language, using cellphones if it’s disturbing to others, eating except in designated areas, snoring, begging or soliciting, creating a mess or going without shirt and shoes.

SOU spokesman Joe Mosley said, “As anyone with children knows, outbreaks happen in public schools, and the university is no different. It was a couple of isolated incidents. It was treated and got rid of with deep, repeated cleaning. This is a public university, and we’re open to all people. I have no idea if it was from homeless people. We don’t ask people if they’re homeless.”

Library browser Haden Hutchinson, a junior and theater-applied science major, said, “It’s concerning and makes me want to move (from previously affected areas), but I get that no one wants to be on the street when it’s this cold. They are trying to survive, and it’s unfortunate if that creates another issue.”

English junior Gage Skaggs, who works at the library’s front desk, said, “At first, when they taped areas, I was scared and avoided it, but someone came in and cleaned it up. Everyone should be able to come in a public library, and they do.”

The library is open 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1-11 p.m. Sunday. It has an adjoining cafe.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jamie Lusch / ashland TidingsHaden Hutchinson takes a break on his phone at the second floor of the Southern Oregon University Library in Ashland on Tuesday. Recently the chairs were closed to disinfect from lice.