The Library and Me: A Fomite’s Tale


At ALA, someone from the organization interviewed me and asked what libraries mean to me.

I told him lots of things. How I won several consecutive years of the library’s summer reading contest as a kid. How heavily my family uses the library (not just for reading, they also sponsor lots of activities, like jewelry making, knitting, yoga, and chess). How heartily I believe this:

And also how I sort of hope one day, I too will have a banned book.

Anyway, after I went home I remembered something I’d forgotten all about.

For a time in early elementary school, my parents forbade me from checking out library books.

They said it was because the books were germ carriers, that people read books on the toilet and while they were sick and every time I got a book, they said I got a cold.  I remember being really sad at not being able to get books when my class went to the library.

I think it was also due to the fact I hadn’t been to preschool or been exposed to many normal germs as a child, due to my parents’ Monk-like attention to hygiene. I was sick for quite a bit of kindergarten and first grade.

Eventually, I got to check out books again. I don’t know if I just whined enough or what. I believe the compromise was a Lysol spritz on the books.


Tonight I looked up whether or not books are actually germ-carriers and found out…they are! They are fomites, which is a word for something that transfers germs (like doorknobs, faucet handles, books, money [which is why cashiers should not handle money and food]etc), transferring everything from the common cold to Hep A and ringworm.

Here’s a formal study (click on the PowerPoint) where the authors conclude:

You should wash your hands after you read.

Pretty much, you should wash your hands after doing anything that has to do with anything.

Dear Lord. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. My kids get library books every other week. They read them in bed (my mother would keel over!). But I think the risk is generally minimal. After all, they could also get infected if a classmate with a grimy, cold-infused hand passed them a paper during math right before snack. Kids don’t do much hand-washing at school on their own.

You simply can’t prevent all exposure to germs. Even my late sister-in-law, who was incredibly averse to catching communicable diseases due to her health, was no stranger to the library or especially the library book sale.

But then again, I am not afraid to break out my purse-sized alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

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2 thoughts on “The Library and Me: A Fomite’s Tale

  1. I had to laugh when I read this. I am a lifelong reader – from libraries, charity used book sales, Goodwill stores, and NEW. No concerns ever came up, ever, that I recall, when I was younger, until the past few years, and I am not sure when it began or how. I don’t think anyone ever thought about it. But for the past, maybe 4 or 5 years, every book coming into our house, new or library or used, is cleaned with a Clorox disinfecting wipe before it is placed on a shelf or read. Back and front covers, inside covers, and edges. Not sure exactly what it does (it was primarily my husband’s concern), but it is okay with me – and I am the lucky person to perform this task. (And also ‘don’t take the front magazine on the rack or the front or top book on the pile’ for the same reason) . . . And then we hear about bedbugs being found in libraries! Not sure what to think of that one.

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