Friday, March 20, 2020

Are Library Books Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Barbara Bush Library, Spring, Texas

My local library system is trying especially hard to keep providing a service to its patrons who prefer reading physical books over reading them in e-books or audiobook format. And I'll hand it to these wonderful librarians; they are really going the extra mile right now. Just take a look at the system they currently have in place six days a week for patrons to come by and pick up the books they've asked to be held for them. 

But, while I totally applaud the effort being made here, I have to wonder if this is wise and how long the service will last. How long does the Coronavirus survive on cardboard, paper, or plastic covers? I've heard anything from 24 hours to 72 hours, even longer. The library does say that all returned books are going to kept out of circulation for a minimum of 72 hours, so there's that. But that doesn't really protect you from the possibility that some well intentioned library employee doesn't pass a fresher virus on to you via an infected pair of gloves or hands. Maybe I'm overthinking this?

Here's a summary of the procedure (taken from library website):

  • When you receive notification that your holds are ready for pick up, call your pick up location. (branch phone numbers)
  • Please have your library number and PIN ready.
  • You will be given a time you can pick up your holds.
  • When you arrive at the library, remain in your vehicle and call the library.
  • Pop your trunk open, so we can place your items inside.
  • You will be asked to show your library card for verification.
  • Library staff will bring your books to your vehicle

The library has also eliminated all late fees and is making a lot of children's material available online to make up for all those cancelled children's events that are such a large part of the library experience for Harris County families. They are even making it possible to get an instant library card on line for those who suddenly remember that books actually exist (even though I suspect most of the newbie cardholders are going to be streaming movies instead of turning pages). 

So, what do you think? Would you take a chance on printed books right now or would you stick to e-books, audiobooks, and podcasts? Me, I'm probably going to play it safe.

(On a personal note, my wife and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary today. The day is, of course, nothing like the one we had planned, but I thought I would share the news with all of my book friends out there. It's been an exciting and wonderful 50 years, and it hardly seems possible that it's been that long.)


  1. Oh, that's wonderful! Many congratualiions and Happy Anniversary. We're a little behind you, 47 years in August.

    Our library shut its doors today and I think that's just as well. We went and took books back and I renewed those I wanted to keep, apparently that will last for 3 months. It won't be open at all not even for people to pick up reserved books. I did wonder about the virus on books but it hasn't really taken hold around here yet (that won't last) so I feel relatively ok about it. I'm pretty sure that in a week or two I will not feel ok and wouldn't go even if it was open. I'll be sticking to Kindle books from now on until this is over and did in fact download three new books this week.

    1. I have so many books in the house, including library books, that I will never run out of things to read. But I know that I'm going to miss out on lots of what's going to be published in 2020 because the library is where I go to find most of the new stuff I want to read.

      That kind of makes me wonder if publishing schedules are going to be delayed for several months because publishers really depend on all those library copies being sold and libraries have the power to create bestsellers all on their own. Makes me think that authors are going to be hurting a little bit, too, during this mess.

      My father is on full lockdown now at the center. I dropped groceries off at the front door this morning and watched them all being sprayed with Lysol before they were packed up for delivery to his fourth floor apartment. I feel much better about him now that I know that visitors are not being allowed inside the building. And I really appreciate those workers who are going the extra mile to keep them calm and comfortable.

  2. Our library was going to do a similar program- having "curbside pickup" for items placed on hold, and a drop-off bin for returns outside the building. But they just announced that's all canceled- no pickups, and not accepting returns either- we just all keep what we've got for now and any late fines are waived. I wasn't planning on getting new library items anyway- I have plenty at home weighing down my TBR shelves- but my kids are already saying how they will miss using the library (they haven't read all their books wither, but new ones are always so much more enticing!) There haven't been any reported cases in my exact neighborhood yet, but there are already some in my town. All the businesses are shutting down around here, one after another.

    1. It's really getting bleak around here, Jeane. No place to go really even if you are one of the more foolish ones that just have to get out to get out. I had to pick up a couple of grocery items for my father this morning, whether I wanted to or not, and I was shocked at the bare shelves. If the truckers don't get some help, we are going to be in some real trouble in a few weeks.

      My library did say that they would not circulate items withing 72 hours of having received them back from patrons. Quarantining books...who would have believed we would be doing this 30 days ago?

  3. Happy Anniversary! 50 years. That's pretty amazing. :D
    As for the whole library/book thing...I wish my library would do that and let us have access to our holds. My library's been closed for over a week now and I'm really missing it. The scientists at MIT said when they tested the virus it lasted for 24 hours on cardboard and paper, and about 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel. So I'd take my chances with a library book. :)

    1. Thanks, Lark, a long time for sure. I remember my grandparents and parents reaching this milestone and thinking how old they were getting to be. Doesn't seem all that old now. LOL

      I was telling Jeane up above that my library says they will not circulate books received back in less than 72 hours of quarantining them. That sounds safe enough, but I'm betting that they will give up on this whole idea within a few days. It's probably not sustainable if they get much of a rush.

    2. I think it would be hard to keep up with it. So enjoy it while you can...before they take it away. :)

  4. Congratulations on 50 years! That's an amazing accomplishment, especially these days. My parents celebrate their 50th next year :)

    I wish my library would let me pick up the book I have on hold right now. It's one I've been dying to read. I would definitely risk coronavirus to read it! It's a brand new book, so I'm sure it's safe.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Believe it or not it sure doesn't seem like it's been 50 years.

      I'm thinking that handling a library book is relatively safe, too. Especially if my library is keeping all returned books out of circulation for 72 hours as they say they are doing. I suppose there's always a chance that the person making the curbside delivery is going to contaminate a book, though. But we really can't be 100% sure about anything we are doing right now anyway.