Protecting libraries during Covid-19 Pandemic | Daily News


Protecting libraries during Covid-19 Pandemic

According to the Government, the Covid -19 pandemic is properly managed and controlled and the Government is planning to re-open the country district wise from 4th May 2020. All universities and education institutes will re-open in the near future.

All libraries in the country may commence their normal services and provide knowledge harness during coming weeks. Libraries are considered as knowledge centres as well as community centres. Hence, it is possible to spread Covid-19 through libraries, unless proper precautionary measures are adhered. As books are susceptible to deteriorate even due to mild environmental, chemical and biological changes, many librarians’ in the country are interested in gaining knowledge in sanitizing their libraries and precautionary measures to follow when sanitizing their precious collections and seek advice from the National Library of Sri Lanka.

All viruses have a RNA genetic code that is bundled inside lipids and proteins which has an exterior fat-based envelope, known as a viral envelope. The Corona virus has a fatty envelope, but some viruses like the Norovirus have a different kind of envelope which are much harder to disinfect. It’s this fatty envelope that elects the corona virus to be susceptible to soap and water. When hands are washed with soap and water, the fatty envelope is washed away falling the virus apart. Covid-19 is transmitted from person to person through contact and from coughing which produces aerosols in the air that can land on a human or surfaces and the aerosols carry the virus. Hence, it is recommended to keep 1meter distance from each other and avoid touching surfaces or faces in order to avoid the transmission of the virus.

The Covid-19 virus can live varying lengths of time on different types of materials. The information about persistency of Covid -19 on different surfaces are floating in the social media and many web sites. A reliable source, a peer review magazine titled The journal of hospital infections published in March 2020 has given the lengths of time that the human corona virus can live on different surfaces.


The virus needs to infect a cell in order to live. So the virus goes into a cell, it infects the cell, it reproduces in the cell and then it kills the cell and then spits itself back out. The Coronavirus can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days, Generally, the length of time varies with the type of surfaces and with metals about 5 days, with wood 4 days, for paper it can be 4 to 5 days, for glass 4 days. The bags made of poly propylene, which are used for marketing, the virus can actually live for 6-9 days. On Ceramics the virus can live for 5 days.

Different types of disinfectants, their concentration and the length of time to destroy the corona virus on the surfaces were published in the same magazine in the same issue. Ethanol at 95% strength and at 70% strength are recommended and 2-propanol, (Isopropyl alcohol) which is often known as the rubbing alcohol which is the main ingredient of hand sanitizers available in chemical stores and pharmacies are recommended in 100% concentration and 70% concentration. Then there is bleach, that is available in hardware shops. It is a strong and effective disinfectant. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in micro-organisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, fungus and viruses. Household bleach works quickly and is widely available at a low cost. Diluted household bleach is thus recommended for the disinfection of house hold belongings including windows and floors. Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services has described a foot bath (0.1% Sodium hypochlorite solution) at the entrance of a building to disinfect footwear. (Operational guideline on preparedness and response for Covid -19 outbreak for work settings published by Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services, April, 2020). Hydrogen peroxide also could be used. It takes about a minute to kill or disable the virus whereas with rubbing alcohol and some other disinfectants it is much shorter (Table 1).

As librarians it is known that no harm is to be done to the library and library materials. Librarians are the stewards of libraries and need to safeguard the knowledge resources for future generations. Isolation is the preferred method to deal with library book collections. It will cause the least potential damage to the resources and provide a safe environment for the public once an appropriate length of time has passed. According to the recommendation issued by National Library of Sri Lanka, returned books or books suspicious of covid-19 contamination should be isolated for minimum 6 days. It is recommended to do the isolation for 6- 9 days

For handling the returned library materials, the librarians need to arrange enough number of cardboard boxes/cartons (or other suitable containers such as rigifoam boxes) sufficient for the collection of 4-5 days of returning materials. Medium sized boxes will be most suitable because of ease of handling. Insert 10-15 naphthalene balls (mothballs) wrapped with a cotton cloth into the box. Place the box on the returning desk at the lending section. Make sure to number the boxes and mark the date of placing books in the box and the date of return after isolation on the box by permanent markers in two different colours in order to identify them clearly.

Let readers safely keep the borrowed library materials inside the box. Library staff may take notes of the returning items without touching. Readers may help library staff to record accession numbers and make sure the returning materials are not physically damaged. Library materials need to be kept undisturbed for minimum six days inside the boxes for quarantine. It is suitable to arrange a locked room in the library for keeping these boxes. After 6 to 9 days, open the boxes and keep books arranged suitably to enable free air flow for another 24 hours. Make sure the library staff use protective measures such as wearing masks and hand gloves while doing so.

Do not undertake large scale disinfecting actions of the entire collections, without knowing the potential impacts to book collections. For example, it has been suggested in an article on books disinfection by L. B. Nice, Harvard Medical School, that one could use a wet fog of a biocidal solution which is based on a quaternary ammonium compound. Many of those materials will interact differently with the biocidal solutions. Never use bleach solutions inside the library. Many cultural materials including books are sensitive to bleach. Bleach is either sodium hypochlorite or sodium hydrochloride and it oxidizes library materials. Delicate finishes and wooden materials would be affected long term by bleach. To clean and disinfect the library, need to start with painted surfaces, door knobs and hand rails. It is necessary to note whether they are metal or wood and if they have any unique finish (Table 2)

Cleaning by soap and water solution from a mild or gentle soap is the best method to disinfection of a library. As water is an enemy of the books, it is to be done with a precaution. Soap has a polar end and a non-polar end. Hence, it tends to pull things into solution. A mild soap which apply to the face would be recommended. Dish soaps are not recommended because dish soaps have other additives in them that can leave a film on objects. Once mixed up the solution, need to place it in a spray bottle or use liquid soap. Take a paper towel, wet it using the solution and then wipe the surface or the railing inside the library. Once wiped the surface, necessary to dispose that paper towel. It is advised not to use cotton cloths or other cloths. Brick wall surfaces inside the library can be wiped down with soap and water and then disinfect with an Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) solution of at least 70% concentration. For the computers key board, clean regularly by 70% Isopropyl alcohol based sanitizer. Do not use rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl alcohol) on wood, since it can damage the finishes. It is advisable to use water and soap to clean the hands and tissue to dry hands inside the library. Alcohol based sanitizers are not recommended inside the library as it may cause stains on paper materials and speed up the deterioration process.

Many librarians inquired from the National Library weather the Ultra Violet (UV) rays can be used to disinfect the library materials. It is known that UV can kill and inactivate viruses with UV germicidal radiation. That is radiation at a specific frequency 264 nanometer or 365 nanometer of wavelength. It was not possible to find a reliable research article that recommends UV for disinfection of library materials against Covid-19 so far. UV rays can damage photographs and paper under long periods of exposures. If need to use UV, the source of radiation, power, intensity and time of exposure to be known. Research is not available to find the answers to the above questions at present.

First and fore most it is a must to wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. The best gloves are Nitrile gloves, which are blue in colour. Gloves should be discarded after each cleaning. It might be difficult to find them at present, because they are being used in hospitals. Normal surgical gloves can be used. Other personal protective equipment such as protective overalls, goggles or safety shields and masks, (if possible N95 filter masks) need to be used at all times during the process of disinfection. Adhere to the above instructions and provide a good service to the readers who await your valuable contribution towards uplifting the knowledge and providing the protection from further spreading of Covid-19.

Dr.Saroja Wettasinghe is Former Director General Department of National Archives and Udaya Cabral is Assistant Director (Conservation), National Library of Sri Lanka

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