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How not to get sick at the library

There is nothing to be gained from obfuscation, so let us be clear, there is a growing level of concern about the coronavirus COVID-19. There is absolutely no reason to panic at the moment. Let us say that again, there is absolutely no reason to panic at the moment. However, at this point, people would be well advised to be paying attention – and this attention should be focused on trustworthy sources of information (such as the Center for Disease Control, not random posts on social media). Granted, the CDC’s warning that people may want to prepare for potential disruptions of their normal routines is undoubtedly stoking further fears. People may be buying some extra groceries, people may be trying to ensure that they have all of their prescriptions filled, and those who are anticipating that they might be stuck at home for a while may be planning a trip to the library to stock up on reading material.

What follows are some helpful tips to keep you healthy while visiting the library. But please, bear in mind, there is no reason to panic. And panicking in the library will just annoy the librarians.


Before you head to the library ask yourself “am I worried that I will possibly be infected by another patron, or am I worried that other library patrons will be infected by me?” If you are not feeling well, please do not visit the library at this time. Even if you are completely positive that you just have the flu, and not something worse, it is just common courtesy to do your best not to spread whatever it is that’s afflicting you. Indeed, people would not need to be nearly as concerned about possibly getting sick while visiting the library if they could be fully confident that everyone visiting the library was in tip top shape! Alas, we all know that not everyone can be expected to follow this piece of advice. You, however, have now read this piece of advice—so you should follow it.

Feeling sick? If so, go see a doctor, not a librarian.


Paranoia makes a trip to the library much less enjoyable. Granted, paranoia makes most things in life less enjoyable. Nevertheless, it does not hurt for you to be a little bit more alert than normal during your library visit. This does not mean that at the present moment you should be on the lookout for signs of nefarious conspiracies or ancient eldritch orders hiding their secrets in the library, it really just means that you should be mildly aware of how the other library patrons seem. If the person browsing in the science fiction section looks unwell and keeps disturbing the quiet with a loud hacking cough…perhaps you should go browse in another section. If the person slowly paging through a biography of Jonas Salk suddenly stops and sneezes directly into the book…perhaps you don’t want to ask them if they’re done with that book. If the librarian at the circulation desk is bundled up in a cardigan, a scarf, and is drinking from a mug of steaming tea…well, at risk of keeping alive stereotypes about librarians, there’s a good chance that’s just how that librarian always looks so you don’t really need to worry. Because you have followed the first piece of advice, you aren’t bringing the sickness into the library, but you can’t guarantee that everyone else is as considerate as you are, so if you see people who seem like they might be infirm, keep a respectful distance.


Fun fact: many libraries have bathrooms. In these bathrooms are sinks as well as soap. Did you know that you can use the soap and the sink in order to wash your hands? Verily, the wonders of libraries never cease! Also, many libraries have in recent years taken to setting up touch-free hand-sanitizer dispensers. You can also use those to keep your hands clean! Truly, libraries are wondrous places. Though it may sound somewhat banal, if you’re worried about possibly getting sick, making sure you are washing your hands regularly (and thoroughly) is a good idea. You should especially make sure that you’re doing this if you’re regularly coming into contact with other people. So, wash your hands before you get to the library. Once you get to the library wash your hands again. Before you leave the library, just for consistency, wash your hands yet again. And, if you really live life on the edge, when you get back home (you guessed it) wash your hands.


One way of defining a library is that it is a repository of information. Alas, in times of great public anxiety misinformation is everywhere. Furthermore, at the present moment it seems like misinformation is spreading more rapidly than any disease thanks to social media. To make matters worse, this spread of misinformation is being actively aided and abetted by certain political figures whose comments on the current situation can’t fully be trusted. So, if you’ve come across an odd claim, consider asking the librarian about it. While (most) librarians are not trained medical professionals, and while a master’s degree in library science does not qualify a librarian to write you a prescription, librarians are trained in finding information and in critically evaluating information. Are you (or is someone you know) all worked up because of a news article that is bouncing around Facebook? Perhaps a librarian can help you evaluate the article. Are you trying to decide which politician’s tweets you should be reading and which you should be muting? The librarian won’t tell you which of those candidates to vote for, but they might tell you which of them is citing reliable information. And if you ask a librarian for reliable information, they should be able to point you towards such sources.

A lack of information can lead to panic. And misinformation can also lead to panic. Luckily, a librarian can help you find trustworthy and reliable sources of information so that you can make an informed and rational decision about whether or not to panic.


So you’ve been in the library for an hour, and it’s steadily dawning on you that you’re starting to feel sick. Please, in a calm fashion, leave the library and seek appropriate help.


According to a rigorous study conducted at 600 libraries which involved interviews with over 1,000 librarians – many libraries contain books. This was a shocking study that caused much consternation amongst librarians. And some of those books are about, brace yourself, diseases, medicine, and other matters of public health. Thus, if you are puttering about the library and you’re thinking about diseases, why not read up on the subject? It should, of course, be noted that reading about epidemics at a moment when you’re worried about a potential epidemic is a really easy way to make yourself more worried than you should be. Indeed, it might be much wiser for you to walk away from the history of medicine section of the library and instead browse the fiction section. Nevertheless, here are some (generally) well regarded works that might be of interest to you as you morosely mull over the possibility of a pandemic:

  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History – John Barry
  • The Fears of the Rich, The Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC – William Foege
  • The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance – Laurie Garrett
  • Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond – Sonia Shah
  • The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life – Nancy Tomes

While no librarian can conclusively tell you that reading the above books will make you feel better…these books should at the very least make you feel more informed.


If you find yourself perusing the books in the history of medicine section of the library one of the things that you might start to realize is that, throughout history, fears of diseases have often been seized upon as an excuse to advance racist views. It is a sorry truth that at many moments in history fear of disease has been used to stoke fear of other people. As you reflect on this in the library you should consider the extent to which this is still an issue for us today. While it is true that many diseases from the past have been vanquished, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia are still very much a problem. And there are unscrupulous individuals who will try to use anxieties about the coronavirus as an attempt to advance their own sickening worldview. Watch out.


Please do not come into the library wearing a full hazmat suit. This will only serve to frighten the other patrons.


So, you are in the library, you are feeling fine, and you have washed your hands. Good for you. Here’s a game for you to play, don’t touch your mouth or your face. This is a challenging game! After all, you probably weren’t even thinking about touching your mouth or your face, but now you can’t think of anything else! It’s like saying “whatever you do, don’t think of pirates wearing magenta!” What are you thinking about? Probably, pirates wearing magenta. But, hey, at least it got you to momentarily stop thinking about how you should avoid touching your mouth and your face. This is just another one of those pieces of general health advice that you want to abide by in times of heightened anxiety about viruses. Luckily, libraries provide a really excellent way of ensuring that you aren’t touching your mouth or your face. Namely: books.

Grab a stack of books, ideally carefully selected books that you plan on checking out of the library, and carry them. As you are carrying them you will not be able to touch your face. If you reach up a hand to touch your face you’ll wind up hitting yourself in the face with the stack of books you are holding. Problem solved.


One of the wonderful things about libraries (at least public libraries) is that they serve the entire community. You don’t need to be rich to use the library, you don’t need a full-time job to use the library, you don’t need to worry about co-pays when you visit the library, and you don’t need to buy anything when you want to use the library. However, amidst all of the growing fears about a possible health crisis, it’s worth remembering that most things in society aren’t like libraries. The ability of your neighbors, family members, co-workers, and strangers you pass in the street to access necessary services is not the same as their ability to access a library (and not everyone can access a library). You may be fortunate enough to be able to go see a doctor as soon as you start feeling unwell, but that may not be true for many people. You may have the funds available to allow you to stock up on some extra food in anticipation of a disruption, but not everyone has funds available. The list could go on. Yet the point remains, as you walk around the library, you should consider that not everyone will be able to be equally prepared should things get worse—and this potentially makes the risks much greater. Anyone can take a book out from the library without fear of going bankrupt as a result, but you can’t say the same about seeing a doctor.

Libraries are political. So, too, are epidemics.


Libraries can be fun places to spend a day: they provide excellent work space, put on interesting programs, and have bathrooms where you can wash your hands. But, a library is also a place that lets you stock up on something very important if you think you there’s a chance you’re going to be stuck at home for a while: books. You should take some out. You should take several out. You should also check with the librarian to find out what the late fee/renewal policy is—just in case a situation should arise wherein you are not able to return the books by the required date.

And once you have your books and you embark back to your home, you should consider stopping by the grocery store of the pharmacy to pick up some other things. There is an unfortunate stereotype in contemporary society wherein sensible preparedness is often compared to having a fully stocked doomsday shelter in your backyard, but there’s nothing foolish about being prepared. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you should make an emergency investment in MREs, but it’s wise to have a couple of extra days’ worth of food (including pet food), water, and having some basic first aid supplies (including flu medicine). While alarmists may argue that you needed to start constructing your ark already, many governmental branches that are responsible for public safety generally recommend that people have some extra food and water on hand (just in case). So, on your way home from the library, stop and pick up a few things. It’s better to wind up having a couple of extra cans of beans in your pantry, than to open your pantry and find it empty.


In conclusion, don’t panic; however, you should pay attention. And you should make sure that you’re paying attention to trustworthy sources of information.

And make sure you have some extra reading material on hand, but hope that you don’t need it.


More Library Related Advice!

How to sleep in a library

How not to be seen in a library

How to organize your library

What to do if the Internet stops working in the library

How to stay cool in a library


About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

6 comments on “How not to get sick at the library

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This entry was posted on February 27, 2020 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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