(22 Jun 2020) In the first phase of a project to develop and disseminate science-based information about how materials can be handled to mitigate exposure to staff and visitors, scientists have found that the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 is not detectable on five common library materials after three days.
The findings are part of the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project designed to generate scientific information to support the handling of core museum, library, and archival materials as these institutions begin to resume operations and reopen to the public. The first phase of the research is focusing on commonly found and frequently handled materials, especially in U.S. public libraries.
Over the past few weeks, scientists at Battelle tested the virus on a variety of surfaces, in environments with standard temperature and relative humidity conditions typically found in air-conditioned office space. Materials tested in phase one included the cover of hardcover books (buckram cloth), the cover of softback books, plain paper pages inside a closed book, mylar protective book cover jackets, and plastic DVD cases. Battelle tests found the virus undetectable after one day on the covers of hardback and softback books as well as the DVD case. The virus was undetectable on the paper inside of a book and mylar book jackets after three days. “It’s below the limit of detection on our viability assay,” said Battelle Principal Research Scientist Will Richter.
Lab testing of physical items followed literature reviews conducted by Battelle to help define the scope of the project’s research and the information needs of libraries, archives, and museums. Last week, the REALM Project released “Systematic Literature Review of SARS-CoV-2: Spread, Environmental Attenuation, Prevention, and Decontamination,” prepared by Battelle. This is an in-depth review of published literature on virus transmission, attenuation, and decontamination methods that can inform discussion and decisions about operations in archives, libraries, and museums.
“Scientific research is essential to answer questions about the spread of the coronavirus on materials that are ever-present in our nation’s libraries, archives, and museums,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “We recognized the need to test specific items and surfaces as these organizations are now reopening, asking: How can we mitigate risk to staff? How should patrons and visitors handle books, touchable exhibits, or DVD cases? Our aim was to equip America’s libraries, archives, and museums with information to help them do what they do best: continue serving their communities. I am so pleased and hopeful that this critical work will be reaching the people who need it.”
“Results from this ongoing research project will help libraries, archives, and museums plan with greater confidence at a difficult time,” said Skip Prichard, OCLC President and CEO. “Although there are various sources of general information about handling materials in the time of COVID-19, this project is designed specifically to test materials and provide useful science-based information to these institutions. Equipped with this critical information, they will be better able to determine measures they can take to mitigate exposure to staff and the communities they serve.”
“Any library worker would agree that people make good decisions when their decisions are based on facts and evidence,” said Nate Hill, Executive Director, Metropolitan New York Library Council and member of the REALM Project Steering Committee. “The output of the REALM Project, both the systematic literature review and the lab test results, give library workers the information they need to make practical, informed decisions as they reopen their spaces and resume their services.”
Battelle will be initiating lab testing on an additional five materials this month, with results expected by the end of July. Examples of public library reopening plans are being collected, curated, and shared to the website this week. The research reports will inform development of toolkit resources, content, and programming that will help translate the findings for real-world applications in museums, libraries, and archives.
“As museums across the country draft their reopening plans, we know that our exhibitions and galleries contain a vast variety of materials that are not addressed in state and federal public health guidelines,” said Carole Charnow, President and Chief Executive Officer, Boston Children’s Museum and member of the REALM Operations Working Group. “Therefore, we need up to date, science-based information specific to museums. For those of us that are hands-on, interactive institutions, this is especially critical. The REALM Project is providing the invaluable evidence-based information museum professionals need in order to ensure the highest possible standards of safety for our staff and visitors.”
The REALM Project is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries; and OCLC, a nonprofit library technology and research organization; in partnership with Battelle, a not-for-profit global scientific research and development organization.
Project updates are posted at oc.lc/realm-project as they become available. Those interested can also sign up through the project website to receive timely email updates when new information is released.
The press release is here.