People Once Feared That Library Books Could Spread Deadly Diseases

Do you need something new to worry about? Well, try this on for size! At some point in time, it was assumed that readers of library books could contract a litany of diseases, ranging from sepsis, strep infections, and even tuberculosis. As if few enough people aren’t reading regularly, this event is known as the “Great Book Scare.”

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The scare occurred in the early 20th and late 19th centuries. It focused specifically on catching deadly infections from books, most particularly lent from a library. The specification of the public library was perhaps started by, but definitely strengthened, when a well-loved library staff, a woman named Jessie Allan, died from tuberculosis. This opened the conversation of the idea of catching infectious diseases from library books. Scarlet fever and smallpox were on the rise at the time and Allan’s death only made people worry more. The library association worried what the future of public libraries would be since the public feared that library books could spread deadly diseases.

Could Library Books Kill You?

The reasons for the book scare were a little different from the reasons we would have for a recent panic. In the 19th century, when libraries were new, and some people didn’t even want them to exist. By large, more people were ill as their immune systems were weaker, so it wasn’t uncommon to worry about who might have had the book last and what they might be passing along. Some also worried about contracting cancer from the dust inside the library books.

A researcher linked to L.B. Nice, who wrote an article about the great book scare attempted to quantify the number of germs and potential diseases that could possibly be contracted from the pages of the most-lent library books. Especially given the fact that most people lick their fingers before turning pages. He soaked the pages in saline and extracted the dirty book water and injected it into guinea pigs. Over the course of the experiment, dozens of guinea pigs contracted contagious diseases like strep and tuberculosis and died.

What Are The Real Risks?

For as alarming as this sounds, it’s also an isolated situation. The guinea pigs were injected with an extracted solution, something that won’t be happening tom most people lending from the library. A Wall Street Journal infectious disease specialist, Michael David says that while bacteria and viruses can live in between book pages, the risk of them actually passing along infections is extremely low.

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