Recently I read about a television episode on “Orange is the New Black” that featured infested library books. Apparently the show prompted numerous calls from a number of worrywarts to the National Pesticide Information Center.
I was reminded of my years working in a microbiology laboratory where we periodically received specimens from our emergency department delivered to them by patients demanding analysis. One of these specimens was indeed a library book with the patient insisting the book was crawling with “little tiny bugs undoubtedly from outer space.” We quickly recovered and identified bedbugs, prompting us to send the offending tome to our central service department for gas sterilization before returning it, with a Department of Health explanation, to our local public library.
Research shows the term bookworm refers to more than avid readers. They can be beetles, silver fish, or cockroaches that thrive on the cellulose in paper or the glue used in bindings. Bedbugs too seek still, quiet places (sound much like a library?) and can hop off the book into your bed to set up housekeeping. Numerous readers handling books can result in bacteria (think Staphylococci, E. coli, Clostridium difficile) or viruses such as cold and flu bugs or even Herpes surviving for months in humid environments.
The solution to these rare infestations?: to rid a book of bedbugs, simply shake it out and blow down the spine or, better yet, wrap it in a cloth bag and pop it in your clothes dryer for a half hour. Most bacteria and viruses need critical mass numbering in the millions to sicken you, and, oh yes, you would have to eat the pages or grind them up and inject them. So, once again, grandma’s instructions to wash your hands before eating, is the best advice.
Does this reaction to one creative television script writer spell the end of lending libraries? In spite of competing venues such as movies, websites, cell phones, and television these public institutions staffed by dedicated librarians will soldier on guiding the reading hoards to the latest best sellers. Books will be published. Writers will continue to grouse about literary agents, editors, and publishers. New plot twists will entice readers to seek them. There will always be that subset of the population that thrives on the written word in printed or electronic (perhaps a totally new-yet-to-be-invented) format that promotes the stoutness of our species. And according to the experts “I have never heard of anyone catching anything from a library book,” proving once again the money you hand over to pay your late book return fee is much dirtier than that book you just read.