Tampa Bay librarians warn of a dangerous practice: patrons microwaving borrowed books to try to sanitize them in the time of the coronavirus.
Tampa Bay Times | by Sue Carlton | July 3, 2020
The victim was a romance novel, large print, recently returned to the Kent District Library in Michigan.
But inside was a mystery: Librarians discovered the book’s innards were charred.
Turned out, someone put the book in a microwave oven, apparently attempting to kill off any coronavirus the last reader might have left behind.
Libraries are used to dealing with books dropped in a bathtub, penned across the margins or left out in the rain.
“I’ve never seen a burned book,” said Kent District Library regional manager Elizabeth Guarino-Kozlowicz.
And please, librarians say. Don’t.
Concerned enough here in Tampa Bay to post warnings about the potential danger, librarians want you to know the books have scannable identification tags inside that contain metal. And everyone knows what can happen when you put metal in a microwave.
“The libraries started hearing it about a week ago when books were being returned that had been on fire,” said Cheryl Morales, executive director for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative. “They’d gotten returns, and (people said) “oh, I put this in the microwave, and that thing exploded.‘”
On Facebook, the Temple Terrace Public Library requests that people please not microwave library materials. “We don’t want anyone catching their house on fire,” library division director Teressa Fraser said this week.
Wrote a Facebook commenter below the image of a smokey tome: “Damaged books hurt my heart!!”
Blame life in a pandemic.
“I think people are really stressed, and they don’t always know what to do,” said Guarino-Kozlowicz. “They thought they were doing the right thing. It wasn’t intentional destruction.”
The good news is that libraries are taking steps to protect patrons by not only sanitizing premises but, believe it or not, putting books in time-out.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the coronavirus “may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
In a research project called REopening Archives, Libraries and Museums, and supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, scientists applied the virus that causes COVID-19 to commonly-used library materials: hardback, softback and plastic book covers, book pages and a DVD case.
The study results found the virus was not detectable on those items “after three days of quarantine.”
That is why libraries locally and across America are putting returned books on temporary lock-down.
Fraser said patrons bring books back to a drop box where they are retrieved by library staff wearing gloves. Then, “we put them in quarantine for 72 hours,” she said.
“We just want to be as safe as we can,” she said.
Morales said she hopes the message gets out that library staff “care deeply about the patrons and are taking extreme measures to make sure everything is safe.”
Contact your local library to see what services are available.