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Battelle Study: Coronavirus Undetectable On Some Library Materials After Three Days

Columbus Metropolitan Library's main branch in downtown Columbus.
David Holm
Columbus Metropolitan Library has begun reopening some branches for limited service after closing due to the pandemic.

New research from Battelle concludes that the coronavirus is not detectable on five different library materials after three days.

The goal of Battelle's research was to get scientific information out to libraries, archives and museums as they prepare to reopen to the public.

“The ability to return books that were out in the public potentially being contaminated coming back to the libraries was obviously a concern for the staff working in those libraries, but also then those materials being recirculated back to the public,” says Will Richter, a Battelle microbiologist who lead the research.

Scientists put the coronavirus on the cover of hardcover books, the cover of paperback books, plain paper pages inside a closed book, mylar protective book cover jackets, and plastic DVD cases.

After just one day in an environment with conditions similar to a typical air-conditioned office space, the virus was undetectable on the covers of both types of books and the DVD case. After three days, the virus was undetectable on the paper inside a book and mylar book jackets.

“If they get a book back from the public, they simply have to quarantine it for three days in a temperature-controlled area,” Richter says, “and the virus will naturally die on its own.”

The research is part of an on-going partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and Dublin-based OCLC, a library research organization. 

Columbus Metropolitan Library says that all returned items "will be quarantined for a minimum of 72 hours prior to being checked in and made available to other customers." The library is telling customers to not return anything if a member of their household is sick.

Battelle will begin testing five other materials this month, and plan to release the next round of findings at the end of July. Richter says two materials they are considering testing on are from the National Archives: a brail book, and a USB audio book for the visually impaired.

“Because this is an emerging threat, there is a relatively small body of work specific to this virus,” Richter says. “We determined that there are gaps in the data and we needed to conduct some laboratory studies to fill those in.”

Plus, he adds with many stuck at home, it’s important to make it safe to get resources and information from the library.

Columbus Library has begun to allow limited services at several locations, including picking up and returning books, using computers, and printing and scanning. Curbside pickup is also being offered at multiple branches across the city.