Library Books Were Once Blamed for Spreading Deadly Diseases

izzy71/iStock via Getty Images
izzy71/iStock via Getty Images

For many people, vising their local library and picking up a book knowing it’s gone through several other hands can be a source of amazement. But for a skittish public in the 1890s, there was a nagging fear that handling a borrowed book could infect them with smallpox, scarlet fever, or tuberculosis. The pleasure of owning a library card became an exercise in terror.

In a fantastic article recently posted on Smithsonian, writer Joseph Hayes chronicles an extended bout of hysteria related to lending libraries in the United States and abroad. With news accounts of a Nebraskan librarian’s death from tuberculosis in 1895 being attributed to her handling of books, the public grew concerned that volumes could be contaminated by people harboring infectious diseases. While it seems as though this concern should be valid for other things repeatedly handled by the public—like doorknobs, for example—library books were singled out for their seeming ability to trap germs in pages that could then spring out when the book was opened. People were also fretful that someone with a fatal illness could cough onto the paper, expectorating tiny bits of germ-harboring tissue.

Physicians did little to dampen the concern, proclaiming either no knowledge of whether books could transmit disease or plainly stating that it was possible. In the UK, the Public Health Act of 1875, which limited the sharing of contaminated items like bedding, was expanded in 1907 to include library books, with people known to carry disease prohibited from handling titles available to the general public.

While paranoia was largely to blame for this bizarre belief, the panic actually aided conservative observers who feared certain books were salacious enough to corrupt the moral fabric. That libraries were being ostracized and books sat on shelves unread played into their objectives, and they attempted to reinforce the idea books were potential contagions whenever possible.

Libraries began to experiment with methods for sterilizing books, including steam or formaldehyde solutions. It took years before the public panic subsided and no massive outbreaks of disease as a result of book borrowing materialized. Modern medicine has determined that, while book pages could conceivably harbor disease, the risk of infection from handling them is extremely low.

Today’s libraries still clean books. At the Boston Public Library, for example, books go through what amounts to a tiny car wash on a conveyor belt, though it’s not to sterilize them. It’s simply to remove dust from pages.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Stephen King's Maine Home Will Become a Museum and Writer's Retreat

Russ Quinlan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Russ Quinlan, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Early in his career, author Stephen King (It, The Shining, The Outsider) embraced his public persona of being a spooky writer of the macabre. He purchased a 19th-century Victorian mansion in Bangor, Maine in 1980 for $135,000 and spent some Halloweens outside passing out candy to trick-or-treaters.

Now, King’s residence is set to become something of a Bangor landmark. As Rolling Stone reports, King and his wife Tabitha requested that their private home at 47 West Broadway be rezoned as a nonprofit center, which the Bangor City Council granted this week. The plan is to turn the home into a museum devoted to King’s work as well as a writer’s retreat.

King isn’t evicting himself, exactly. While he remains the owner, he and his family have spent less time at the residence over the years, instead residing in Florida or Oxford County, Maine.

Shortly after King purchased the home, he wrote and read aloud an essay addressing why he chose Bangor and his earliest impressions of 47 West Broadway. “I think it disapproved of us at first,” he wrote. “The parlor seemed cold in a way that had little to do with temperature. The cat would not go into that room; the kids avoided it. My oldest son was convinced there were ghosts in the turret towers …” A few months in, King recalled, his family began to settle in.

The Bangor home has morphed into a tourist attraction of sorts over time, with fans of King’s making a pilgrimage to the spot to take photos or idle around its ornate iron gate. Soon they’ll be able to peek inside, though the museum will be by appointment only. It’s not yet known when the home will open to visitors or how writers can apply to stay there.

[h/t Rolling Stone]

Wizarding World Gold, a Magical New Harry Potter Subscription Service, Has Arrived

The Potter Collector, YouTube
The Potter Collector, YouTube

For Potterheads, Christmas just came early. There’s a new Harry Potter subscription service on the market, and it’ll make you feel like you plunged face-first into one of the magical books—not unlike Harry’s frequent forays into the Pensieve.

Engadget reports that Wizarding World Gold is a 12-month commitment, and includes access to all seven Harry Potter ebooks through the Wizarding World app, collectible pin badges, merchandise discounts, and more.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg-sized rock cake. After signing up, you’ll receive a pin, a print of J.K. Rowling’s sketch of Hogwarts, and a personalized journal called Keys and Curios, designed by the graphic design team behind the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts film franchises. It features your name, Hogwarts house, and “enchanted keys” that “unlock hidden secrets” when scanned with the Wizarding World app.

You can also watch Wizarding World Originals, an exclusive video series that delves into the mysteries of the world of Harry Potter; gain early access to collectible merchandise and priority bookings for events like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and enjoy magical quizzes and puzzles. You’ll also make the guest list for festivities like the Wizarding World Gold Christmas Party in the Great Hall at Warner Bros.’s Studio Tour London.

If you register now, your welcome gift with the pin, print, and journal will arrive in about two weeks, and your first official subscription box will follow later this autumn. It’s $75 for the entire year, which is quite a bit cheaper than flying off to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

If you have any funds left in your Gringotts vault, you can supplement your fantasy-filled subscription with a Harry Potter pop-up book, sock Advent calendar, bathrobe, or even Pandora jewelry.

[h/t Engadget]