by Terry Rogers
Kay Hudson, Librarian at the Milford Public Library, and her staff have spent many hours during the COVID-19 pandemic stacking and storing books that have been borrowed and returned for the 72 hours required under Governor John Carney’s state of emergency. Those many stacks of books, however, are soon to be a thing of the past with the arrival of the Steri-Book sanitizing machine.
“Every book that comes into the library from outside the building must be quarantined for 72 hours,” Hudson said. “The method we have used during the pandemic is to use almost every surface we can in the conference rooms with piles of books and labels that tell us when they can be returned to circulation. This has been very time consuming and tedious. Right after COVID-19 began, I got an email about the sterilization machine which had been used in other countries since 2009 but had never been released in the United States. I knew instantly that we needed to have one of these machines.”
Hudson explained that even before the pandemic, items were returned to the library that needed deep cleaning and she had always wanted a way to easily do that so they could be placed in circulation quicker. She reached out to the company that sent the email who explained to her that there were only 10 units available.
“I talked to our Board who was interested but they wondered if we bought more than one, could we get a discount,” Hudson said. “They suggested I reach out to other libraries to see if we could all go together to buy them in bulk, but none of them were interested. I contacted the company the morning of our Board meeting and was told they had only one machine left and that they would only hold it for me until noon that day. The board meeting was at 11 and I begged them to give me until 2 PM and she agreed. The Board approved the purchase and I was on the phone immediately, getting the Milford Library the very last one available.”
The machine had to be shipped from overseas and was ordered on May 31st. It should have arrived in June but was delayed in transit until July 6th. The book sterilizer takes up to six books and, in 60 seconds, can sterilize all the pages and cover using ultraviolet light. It can also sterilize DVDs, electronics, plastic and other materials as well. It works by fanning the pages of the book as it directs the ultraviolet light at the pages, killing any viruses or bacteria that may have existed on the pages.
“This will be a huge benefit to our patrons,” Hudson said. “They will know that when they get a book from the Milford Library, it is clean. We now offer curbside pickup where someone can order a book to borrow and we will bring it to them outside. We have had people who have called in about books who are concerned about where that book has been. Now, we can tell them any book, even those who come to us from other libraries, has been sterilized and is safe for them to read.”
Currently, library staff, who are working in shifts so that if one employee should be exposed to the virus, they will not expose the entire staff, are sterilizing the backlog of items that have been waiting in the conference rooms. Once they get caught up, they will use the machine daily to treat all books and other items returned to the library or delivered through inter-library loan. Hudson stated that she intends to use the sterilizer even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended in order to continue protecting people from any viruses or bacteria on loaned items.