Write Stuff – Dirty Books

Wait?you didn’t think we were going to talk about those kinds of dirty books, did you? Oh. Sorry to disappoint. But if You’re keen for a tale involving creepy stuff like bedbugs, mould, mouse droppings, and E. coli, read on. they’re all things that might be hiding among the pages of your favourite books.

If You’re going to go looking for large collections of well-loved books, there’s no better place than the local library. But if you think about it, libraries are sort of like hotels: Thousands of people use them and sit on their soft surfaces (like chairs and carpets), and their books are often privy to the same personal activities for which people use hotel rooms. Library books are read in bathrooms, in bed, at the dinner table or over coffee.

So It’s no surprise that libraries are facing some unwelcome visitors: bedbugs. As The New York Times reports, ?tiny bedbugs and their eggs can hide in the spines of hardcover books.? The nasty little critters don’t care whether they’re coming or going. You might open a bedbug-infested book at home and have them crawl into your bed, while another library user could unwittingly load up a clean book after taking it into an infested home.

The problem isn’t an epidemic, and some librarians are taking serious measures to prevent its spread?including using bedbug-sniffing tracker dogs to root the bugs out. Used-book stores can be a haven for the persistent pests as well. So before you pick up that deal on a second-hand murder mystery, you should open the pages and look for real corpses: bedbug corpses, or the tell-tale stains that show they’ve been there.

Bedbugs aren’t the only scary things hiding in books, and a university team has done the research to prove it. Over at the Thomas Tredway Library at Augustana College, microbiology professor Dara Wegman-Geedey and several students ?decided to put books, periodicals, microfilm and microfiche from the Tredway Library’s collection to the test.?

The fomite test, that is. A fomite is an inanimate object (like a book) that transfers pathogens ?from one host to another or from a non-living reservoir to a susceptible host.? The team tested for organisms that included E. coli and Staphylococcus sp. You can view the full report on this page, but the short answer is that material in the library and special collections supported the growth of E. coli but didn’t support the growth of Staphylococcus sp.

The news about Staphylococcus sp. doesn’t have a happy ending, though. Library conditions didn’t support the organism’s growth, but they didn’t kill it, either. As the report notes, ?returning them to optimal conditions resulted in maximum expected growth.?

If You’re puzzled about how organisms like E. coli can end up on the pages of books, just think about the popularity of those bathroom bookstands. And then there are folks who use things like bacon and human teeth as bookmarks (the Abe Books blog has plenty of other odd examples).

Of course there are the run-of-the-mill book problems too, like mouse droppings, moisture, and mould. Thankfully, these can be a lot easier to deal with. Just grab your mask, gloves, and HEPA-filter vacuum and start on the shelves.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll put this used copy of Joy of Cooking back on the shelf.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).

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