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Beware the Deadly Books: A Forgotten Episode in Library History

Andrew McClary
The Journal of Library History (1974-1987)
Vol. 20, No. 4 (Fall, 1985), pp. 427-433
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25541656
Page Count: 7
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Beware the Deadly Books: A Forgotten Episode in Library History
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Abstract

At the turn of the century, libraries were confronted with the question: do library books transmit infectious disease? Medical professionals were divided over the issue, and no scientific evidence ever supported the notion. Based on personal experience, librarians thought it highly unlikely that books were dangerous. They were also concerned about the implications of such a notion for library operations. Why did the infected book scare last, as it did, for over forty years? A tentative answer seems to be that public fear kept the scare alive. This fear was fueled by public preoccupation with infectious disease, by a lack of scientific evidence that would have held speculation in check, and by sensational accounts of the danger in the media. It is suggested that changing views within the medical community, coupled with a dramatic decline in infectious disease, were important factors in the demise of this almost forgotten challenge to the library world.

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