A bookworm

The term “bookworm” is used in two senses. The first refers to any type of insect which infests books, while the other refers to a person who enjoys books. The second may be used pejoratively, suggesting that the person has become obsessed with books. In the second sense, avid reading can certainly be hard on books, especially cheap paperbacks, but it is generally not as potentially damaging as insect infestation. The intended meaning is usually made clear by context.

The first usage of bookworm can get rather vague. No species of insect is specifically known as a bookworm, although a wide range of insects from silverfish to termites will eat books and paper, if the material is available. The larvae of several insects are also rather fond of books, especially the glue used in older books, and some of these larvae will tunnel into books. A true book borer, however, is rather rare.

Controlling insects in a library can be a problem, especially in an older library, which may be congenial to insects and damp as well, posing a serious significant risk to the contents. Most bibliophiles try to keep valuable books in controlled environments, where they are less subject to infestation. Keeping a library clean and dry can also help. An abandoned library, however, can be subject to large amounts of insect damage, especially in the tropics.

The second usage of bookworm actually predates the first; as early as 1599, people were referring to book lovers as bookworms. The term was only applied to insects in the 1800s. Some people prefer to distinguish bookworms from bibliophiles, arguing that bookworms love books for their contents, while bibliophiles love books as objects. Clearly, some overlap probably exists between the two, as plenty of bookworms collect old or beautiful books, and many bibliophiles greatly enjoy reading.

Different people have different standards about bookworms, often determined by their own reading habits. The term is often applied to children, especially shy children who spend much of their spare time reading. Adults, however, can certainly be bookworms as well, especially when they have a great deal of spare time on their hands. If you cannot leave the house without a book, you might be a bookworm. This is especially true if you pop the book open at every opportunity, or if you have been known to read while walking down the street, cooking, or performing similar tasks.


Bibliophilia or bibliophilism is the love of books. Accordingly a bibliophile is an individual who loves books, especially “for qualities of format.” A bookworm loves books for their content, or otherwise loves reading. The -ia-suffixed form “bibliophilia” is sometimes considered[by whom?] to be an incorrect usage; the older “bibliophilism” is considered[by whom?] more correct. The adjective form of the term is bibliophilic. A bibliophile may be, but is not necessarily, a book collector.


The classic bibliophile is one who loves to read, admire and collect books, often amassing a large and specialised collection. Bibliophiles do not necessarily want to possess the books they love; an alternative would be to admire them in old libraries. However, the bibliophile is usually an avid book collector, sometimes pursuing scholarship in the collection, sometimes putting form above content with an emphasis on old, rare, or expensive books, first editions, books with special or unusual bindings,autographed copies, etc.[citation needed]

Usage of the term

Bibliophilia is not to be confused with bibliomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged, and in which the mere fact that an object is a book is sufficient for it to be collected or loved. Some use the term “bibliomania” interchangeably with “bibliophily” and in fact, the Library of Congress does not use the term “bibliophily,” but rather refers its readers to either book collecting or bibliomania.[1] The New York Public Libraryfollows the same practice.[2]


According to Arthur H. Minters the “private collecting of books was a fashion indulged in by many Romans, including Cicero and Atticus.”[3] The British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone was known to have been a bibliophile. The term entered the English language in 1824.[4] It is to be distinguished from the much older notion of a bookman (which dates back to 1583), which is one who loves books, and especially reading; more generally, a bookman is one who participates in writing, publishing, or selling books.[5]