By Timothy Fanning
When Jessica Berringer and her friends first saw the rat on the first floor of the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library, her friends were studying rat anatomy for a biology lab due the next morning.
It was Oct. 17, 12:39 a.m. exactly. Berringer, a freshman majoring in biology, had her head buried in her psychology textbook when her friends went quiet.
“There is dead a– a rat in the library,” one of them said, pointing toward the Student Technology Center. “I am looking at a rat. We are making eye contact.”
Berringer and her other friend spun around. There it was, across the aisle, less than 20 feet away.
“At first I didn’t believe him,” Berringer later said. “And then I saw it myself. So I did what any other teenager would do. I got out my phone for a Snapchat and recorded the rat in the library.”
Berringer and her friends aren’t the only ones to see rats in the library late at night.
Jackson Andrew, an entrepreneur freshman, saw his first rat a week after a friend showed him Berringer’s Snapchat.
It was a little after midnight, and he was walking to the bathroom after finishing math homework. As he stood, he saw the rat scurry past the bathroom.
“At first I was pretty scared because one was near me, but honestly, I was more surprised because I didn’t expect to see rats in the library,” Andrew said.
Later that night he saw another crawl a pole in the computer lab.
Rats in the library have become such a regular occurrence that aides have affectionately called one of them Steve-O.
Although there have been reports of Steve-O and his friends since February, students and staff didn’t notice the problem until Oct. 2, when the library extended its hours until 2 a.m.
The rats have likely been in the library for years, and people are seeing them more because the hours have been extended, said David Lueck, owner of The Trapper Guy, a St. Petersburg-based pest control business.
“Rats are nocturnal and since the building is open during the prime times the rats are awake and out, you’ll see them until they get used to the human activity,” said Lueck.
Lueck said rats aren’t likely to attack students, but cautioned that they can eat away at buildings and infrastructure, and spread disease.
Bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella can hitch a ride on the furry pests, according to The Washington Post. However, Lueck said that the disease will typically only spread in hospitals and restaurants.
In 2000 alone, urban rats caused $19 billion worth of economic damage nationwide, according to The New Republic, including the costs incurred when they destroy parts of buildings.
“We are working with facilities to get control of it,” said Catherine Cardwell, dean of the library. “Facilities started two weeks ago and have been working very diligently to solve the problem.”
Kevin Cartmill, the custodian superintendent who is heading the rat removal project, did not return requests for comment.
Although Cardwell did not comment on the specific measures USF St. Petersburg Facilities Services is taking, she said staff has been instructed to regularly empty trash cans and to be mindful of glue traps.
One staff member, who requested anonymity because she works at the library, said they were told to be careful of glue traps near the lounge door, where “some critters chewed up the rug while trying to claw their way under the door.”
Cardwell also said that the pest control is going well and USF St. Petersburg Facilities Services have already made progress.
But getting rid of a rat infestation is not an easy task.
“You can get it under control, and it’s hard, but not impossible. Rats will never completely go away,” Lueck said.
That’s because rats breed like rabbits, he said.
Two rats in an ideal environment can turn into 482 million rats over a period of three years, if left alone, according to The New Republic.
Lueck said black rats, more commonly known as fruit rats, are the most common in St. Petersburg. Black rats like to be around salt and fresh water, but can live anywhere inland if they like the environment.
“Black rats like humans and live anywhere where there is human activity for the resources and shelter,” Lueck said.
“Rats are going inside for shelter, getting in through the roof or down below. They want someplace dry and warm, a place that protects them from predators. Once they’re inside, if they find food, they utilize it.”
According to library policy, drinks with secure lids, meals in secured containers, and snacks packaged or bagged appropriately are permitted on all floors. Cardwell noted the library would not change its policy.
Another library aide said the sticky traps have helped, and she has seen the rats less frequently since they started taking out the trash more often at night.
“It’s a dynamic natural environment outside these doors. Students can help by putting things in the garbage cans,” Cardwell said.
“Whenever students have a concern, they should alert library personnel immediately,” she said. “We take student safety very seriously and the extended hours make for a pleasant experience for a lot of people on campus, and we are trying to solve the problems as soon as they come to our attention.”
With finals approaching, Cardwell expects the extended library hours will be even busier.
Berringer said the rats won’t deter her from coming back to the library.
“It was gross but I went back to the library that next day. If I need somewhere to study, I need somewhere to study. The rat was minding its own business,” she said.
Video courtesy of Jessica Berringer.
Pictured Above: Black rats, like the one featured in this photo, are the most common kind of rat in St. Petersburg. They like to live around salt and fresh water and make buildings, like the Nelson Poynter Library, home for shelter and protection from predators. Courtesy of National Science and Media Museum