AskSmithsonian always has a fascinating and eclectic collection of reader questions and answers from Smithsonian Institutions experts on topics ranging from scientific phenomena to art history to pop culture. (What exactly is duck sauce? Has anyone ever run for president from prison? How does a hippopotamus swim so fast?) In the current issue, a reader asks if libraries fumigate books to disinfect them. Here's the answer:
That practice was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when book-borrowing was seen as a possible disease vector. Today, collections use nonchemical methods, like freezing, to treat mold and insect infestations. The observation that the coronavirus can survive on paper and cardboard for up to one day is leading libraries to disinfect nonporous surfaces and quarantine recently circulated materials for 24 hours, says Vanessa Haight Smith, the head of the Smithsonian Libraries’ Preservation Services Department.