When you go to the library for a book to read, I’ll bet the notion that it might carry germs never even crosses your mind. But the truth is, any object that people touch picks up germs—especially objects that lots of people touch. That’s why supermarkets these days have sanitary wipe dispensers with the shopping carts. And the thing about library books—especially popular library books—is that they end up getting touched by lots of people.
That’s what a post on Mental Floss points out, looking at the history of research into “library book grossness.” It includes mention of experiments in which guinea pigs were injected with a solution extracted from the pages of dirty library books, and promptly ended up dying of tuberculosis, strep infections, and other nasty diseases.
The bright side is, you’d effectively have to have a scientist extract the germs and inject them into you for there to be any actual risk of infection from an unsanitary library book. The Wall Street Journal notes that germs need a “critical mass” to infect people, and there just aren’t enough of them on the average book to do the trick. However, some libraries have had issues with bedbugs. A pesticide specialist recommends that if your library has had an infestation, you could carry your books home in a cloth bag and run them through the dryer for 30 minutes to kill any resident bugs. (But I can’t imagine that being tumbled around in a dryer for 30 minutes would be very good for the books, either!)
Meanwhile, many libraries in Japan have installed Bacteria Elimination Boxes, which kill germs on books via 45 seconds of ultraviolet light. It only kills the germs on the covers, but that’s where 99% of germs on books are located. Not all that surprising, given that’s where books are held. Meanwhile, people who don’t have access to such a device could probably do nearly as well just by wiping it down with some rubbing alcohol on a paper towel or cotton swab.
Those of us who read e-books might feel a little smug about the fact that electronic books can’t carry germs or bedbugs. But maybe we should think again. As David pointed out earlier this month, the smartphones people read e-books on can themselves be toilet-level dirty. Douglas Adams would probably be terribly amused that telephone sanitizers might actually come in handy now.
(Thanks to TeleRead’s former editor Dan Eldridge for calling my attention to this story!)