How to Quarantine Public Library Materials

Librarians are learning how to quarantine books using booktrucks or bins. Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. It does not supersede the rules and recommendations of local authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As libraries across the country begin to expand their services with curbside pickup and plan for how they will reopen their doors to the public, the question of how to transfer library materials back and forth safely is on everyone’s minds.

It can be a challenge to find definitive answers, as sources and research can be conflicting.  Below you’ll find a roundup of the research on how to quarantine materials and the steps to follow based on recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Library Association (ALA), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT).

Quarantine for the Recommended Time

At this time, there are various guidelines for how long to quarantine library materials. ALA has assembled a wealth of information on its Handling Library Materials and Collections During a Pandemic page. Their sources for how to quarantine and disinfect books include the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NDCC), which recommends a 24- to 48-hour quarantine of returned books. For uncoated paper and cardboard, the Institute of Museum and Library Services suggests following the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation of a 24-hour quarantine.

Additionally, the ILMS REALM (Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums) Project discovered that the virus was undetectable after two days on archival folders and after four days on braille pages, glossy book pages, and board book; magazine pages had a trace amount of the virus after four days. The fourth stage of the REALM Project indicated that stacking materials can prolong the life of the virus, which was still detectable on stacked materials up to six days later.

The NCPTT cites an article from the Journal of Hospital Infection that states the virus can live on paper four to five days and on plastics for up to nine days. Depending on the surface, items should be quarantined for the recommended number of days.

Limit Transfer of Germs

The NDCC recommends wearing gloves to transport items into quarantine and removing them immediately after to avoid transferring the virus to other surfaces. Staff should also wear masks when working with quarantined materials and wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after handling materials, per CDC guidelines.

Surfaces such as tabletops, chairs, door handles, book returns, booktrucks, bins, and any other surfaces that have been touched should be disinfected thoroughly between transfer of materials.

Prepare Your Library for Staff and Patron Safety

Explore products that will help you provide library services to your community while ensuring patron and staff well-being.

Separate Circulating Materials

Ensure that your patrons know the protocol for returning items to your library. Is there a specific book return you would like them to use? Are you accepting returns at curbside pickup? Even if you are very clear in your communication, be prepared to manage patrons attempting to return items at other locations or times.

Dedicate specific booktrucks or bins for quarantined items, or place them in bags for the quarantine period. They should be labeled with the date they were placed in quarantine to help track when they can be circulated again.

Consider Disinfecting Before Reshelving 

The quarantine time is designed to eliminate the need for disinfecting, as the virus should no longer live on the surface of those materials. However, after quarantining for the allotted number of hours, you may wish to wipe items that can withstand it, such as book jacket covers or DVD cases.

Share your protocol with all staff members and display the steps to ensure they’re being followed.

Follow the Research 

For further information, watch pediatrician and children’s librarian Dr. Dipesh Navsaria’s presentation “COVID-19: Safety Tips for Reopening Your Library,” and check out the “Checklist for Library Curbside Pickup Services” and “10 Take-Home Kits for Your Summer Reading Program.”

As researchers learn more about COVID-19, we’ll continue to monitor the studies and keep you informed about the best ways to manage your circulating collections to keep everyone safe.





Liz Bowie

Liz Bowie

Marketing Content Manager at Demco, Inc.
Liz is the Marketing Content Manager for Demco. Her background includes editorial management and product development of innovative and time-saving tools for schools and libraries, with an emphasis on Common Core, literacy and math. The products she and her team have developed, including classroom games, learning centers and professional development resources, have garnered 46 industry awards for excellence in education. Liz is passionate about promoting literacy through her work and the work of others. If you are interested in sharing your ideas and programming tips on Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog or have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, contact Liz at