IMLS, CDC Offer Guidance for Disinfecting Returned Library Books

Study shows the novel coronavirus can only survive on paper for a few hours. An IMLS webinar with CDC officials called the material "a low concern."

Before schools closed in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many librarians allowed students to check out stacks of books for the forced break. They wanted their kids to have something to read. Now, these school librarians are worried about the returns, not only how to process such a large volume, but, most importantly, how to disinfect those books. At public libraries that either remain open or are closed by still having books returned, there is an urgent need to understand the proper precautions. The same is true in states that have closed schools for the remainder of the year and are asking students to return books now. For others, the issue isn't as pressing but they want a plan.

study, published in March in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the virus "remained active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days under the conditions in this experiment. It remained infectious for up to 24 hours on cardboard." A study published in The Lancet on April 2 showed "no infectious virus could be recovered from printing and tissue papers after a 3-hour incubation."

This data can inform appropriate action, including wiping down cardboard and plastic-covered books with disinfectant wipes and leaving returned books to "quarantine" until the danger of transmission has passed. 

To help address librarians' concerns, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) hosted a webinar on Monday, March 30, “Mitigating COVID-19 When Managing Paper-Based, Circulating, and Other Types of Collections.” It was presented in coordination with the U.S. Department of Education, National Archives and Records Administration, Smithsonian Institution, and Library of Congress, and moderated by IMLS Director Crosby Kemper, the hourlong webinar featured speakers David Berendes, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, and Catherine Rasberry, health scientist in CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health.

“You don't have to really worry about finding ways to disinfect those materials,” Berendes said. “The virus, if it's present, would be present in very low quantities and would die off pretty quickly."

"For us to have been concerned about transmission from any paper-based material, the individual would have had to cough or sneeze directly on the object,” he explained.

“We're pretty sure that, with some regularity, people are sneezing onto our books,” responded Kemper.

In that case, Berendes recommended leaving books untouched for a 24-hour period before handling them.

Of the many concerns library workers should have about the materials they handle, however, paper is fairly low on the list, he said.

“We would just emphasize that the staff practice good hand hygiene after touching the books. For DVDs or other materials that are more easily cleaned…those are pretty easily wipeable with alcohol wipes." 

Materials in Braille usually have plastic coatings that can be wiped down with alcohol-based cleaners.

Kara Yorio, SLJ's news editor, contributed to this report. Lisa Peet is Library Journal's news editor.

 

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Susan Honer

The article mentions paper: " A study published in The Lancet on April 2 showed "no infectious virus could be recovered from printing and tissue papers after a 3-hour incubation."

Still, one has to wonder: does this apply to the interior pages that have been coughed and sneezed on, and then the book closed shut with the bacteria still "trapped" inside?

Could bed-bug cookers be used to heat and kill these bacteria?

Posted : Apr 13, 2020 05:56


Alma Alvarez

Does the virus have to be exposed to air to disintegrate? For example someone sneezes on a page then closes the book. Will the virus still disintegrate in the same way as a page left open to the air?

Posted : Apr 11, 2020 09:28


Lupe Fuentes

Thank you for keeping us informed on the various ways to handle book returns.

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 10:14


Lindsay Klick

Did anyone ask about the fact that most library books are wrapped in plastic covers? I thought I read that the virus can last longer on plastic surfaces, possibly three days?

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 07:08

Kara Yorio

Hi. Yes, it is addressed in the story. The virus "remained active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days under the conditions in this experiment. It remained infectious for up to 24 hours on cardboard."

They suggested using a disinfectant wipe to wipe down the covers. Books can also be quarantined. Gloves should be worn then disposed of properly.

If you follow the link for webinar, you can see the full transcript. Thank you.

Posted : Apr 10, 2020 07:31


Pam Hagler

Thank you. This is a helpful article.

Posted : Apr 09, 2020 11:04


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