“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”– T.S. Eliot
One of the earliest casualties of the COVID-19 lockdown was the public library. It seemed evident, even in the weeks leading up to its demise, that this unusually vibrant and very necessary hub of community life was destined for closure – especially given its unique feature as a “hands on” sort of venue where people are frequently handling the same physical materials day in, day out.
After all, the library is a place where people are continuously leafing through pages that have been pinched, pressed, folded and gently tugged at by hundreds (if not thousands) of other patrons. Not to mention the casual touching and fondling of the many covers and spines themselves, as is the nature of some casual strollers to simply pull a book out from the shelf, examine its exterior and simply slide it back in among the other volumes before trailing their finger along the rest of the row, as though they were reading Braille.
To be sure, the public library is a hub of physical touch just as much as it is one of community and social gathering. People come to such a place for that very reason; to feel and to experience. For this reason, perhaps it is one of those rare and special exemptions in our current climate of germ phobia that we actually don’t mind fondling something that has been in intimate proximity with a complete stranger (indeed many, many complete strangers), before finding itself in our hands, in our laps, or in our children’s laps for that matter. We don’t seem to care that the very book we are holding in our hands has been in somebody else’s home for several weeks. Likewise, it seldom crosses our minds that another person may have been blowing their nose while reading it or perhaps even kept it in their bathroom for those opportune moments of reading pleasure whenever nature happened to call.
For that matter, how many of us ever questioned whether these thousands upon thousands of books were ever wiped down, let alone sanitized by the library staff once they were returned?