What Will You Do with All the Returned Books?

For many of you, the school year will wrap up in the next couple of weeks. A lot of librarians and textbook coordinators are having questions about what to do with the books the students have kept at home during the COVID 19 time. I’m going to share some information from several articles and try to offer some tips I have seen and heard other librarians doing. At this point, we have to do the best we can with what we know.

These are the resources I used to gather information: Article: Disinfecting Circulating Books

Article: IMLS, CDC Offer Guidance for Disinfecting Returned Library Books

Article: IMLS, CDC: On Staff Safety, Handling Paper In COVID-19 Pandemic

Article: Handling Library Materials and Collections During a Pandemic Article: How to Sanitize Collections in a Pandemic

Research Study: Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1

Research Study: Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents


In a nutshell, this is what I see.

Separate the returned books from the rest of the collection.

The articles and studies linked above suggest for the returned books to be in a 24 to 48-hour or 4-5 day quarantine in a separate area. I’d probably opt for the greater time or even extend it since so much is still being discovered about this coronavirus.

Some librarians are able to arrange for families to drop off books at places like district warehouses or even repurposing Little Free Libraries at the front of their schools. Others are collecting books when families are picking up their daily curbside meals or printed educational packets for home. Some have asked for the books to be returned in a ziplock bag if the family has access to one.


When it’s not possible to quarantine the books, some librarians are collecting the books in large containers layered with sturdy plastic garbage bags. Someone wears gloves and removes the bags daily and keeps them tied shut. It is recommended that the gloves be immediately disposed of and the wearer washes their hands following CDC guidelines. It is very important to practice good hand hygiene after touching the books or other materials returned from the students’ homes.


Librarian, Amanda Jones, shared that she is collecting the bags daily and labels them with the date so she can keep up with the amount of time the books have been bagged in quarantine. While a recent study shows that COVID-19 can last on surfaces such as cardboard for 24 hours https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217v1.full.pdf and another study shows 4-5 days, many librarians are opting for an extended time period since there are so many unknowns right now. Amanda has opted for a 2-week quarantine while others will store their books for the entire summer before opening the bags of books.


Cleaning the Books

School librarians would probably not consider themselves preservationists. But, there is much we can learn from preservationist librarians who specialize in this area. According to the studies linked above, liquid disinfectants and UV ray exposure can be harmful to the books and is not recommended.


I have seen where some librarians, as a common practice, wipe their books or book jackets with some kind of disinfecting/alcohol-based wipes at the end of the year. However, it appears that extended time in quarantine is the best way to “clean” your books.


Weed/Discard Books

I have also even seen where some districts are opting to “write off” all books currently checked out to students. Some have mentioned collecting the books and then weeding them from the collection. Another idea I have seen is where the districts are opting to let the students keep the books and add to or start their own home library. We all know the value of having books in the home and this is one way to support that.


None of the tips that I shared are guaranteed to be the best practice. The ideas were gleaned from the articles and studies I shared above. As always, you should follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local health authorities.


There are a lot of things to discuss with your administrator, library director, and even the maintenance director at your district. Don’t make the decision on your own of how you will handle books that are currently checked out. This is a time for us to collaborate with others in our district.


Let the smartest person in the room be the Zoom room you gather in when you create your plan.


Stay safe and have a great weekend!

Dr. Laura


Be sure to listen to the Librarian Influencer podcast The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries: with Lisa Von Drasek. She shared some great resources to help you finish your school year strong by building the reading and writing connection with your students.


***Scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe to our mailing list. Stay up to date on latest blog posts, podcast interviews, and other related topics.***

Laura Sheneman, EdD, MLS

  • Black Instagram Icon

Site Visitors

©2020 by Laura Sheneman.  Privacy Policy  Terms and Conditions  Disclaimer