Helping Libraries and Museums Operate Safely in the COVID-19 World

Battelle scientists have been researching and finding ways to combat the COVID-19 virus since January. Outcomes from these studies include Battelle's decontamination system for personal protective equipment (PPE) used by front-line workers, coronavirus testing kits, emerging vaccine development and testing surfaces of library and museum materials.

The importance of studying the SARS-CoV-2 survival rate on surfaces and materials has broad implications for public health as states and businesses begin to re-open.

Battelle was asked by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Ohio-based library research organization (OCLC), to do the scientific inquiry of the REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project, designed to support the handling of museum, library, and archival materials. The study determines how long the virus can survive on high-circulation materials, and how those materials might be decontaminated for safe handling by staff and the public.

The study is being conducted in phases and the first phase was a thorough literature search to identify previous work done in the field so research wouldn’t be overly replicative. It then focused on five of the most common and frequently handled materials. Working within bio-containment level 3 (BL3) laboratories, Battelle scientists placed active coronavirus on the covers of hardcover books, covers of paperback books, plain paper pages inside of closed books, mylar protective book cover jackets, and plastic DVD cases. 

The findings after one day, in ambient conditions similar to a typical office space, was that the virus was undetectable on the covers of hardcover and paperback books and the DVD cases. After three days, the virus was undetectable on the paper inside of books and the mylar book jackets.

"The ability to safely return books that were potentially contaminated from public use was a concern for library staff and the public using the materials." said Will Richter, a microbiologist and lead researcher for the study. "When books are returned, libraries have to quarantine them for three days in a temperature-controlled (air-conditioned) area and the virus will naturally die on its own."

On June 23, Battelle began testing the second round of materials. The materials were provided by Columbus Metropolitan Library, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and the Library of Congress. The items include:

•    braille paper pages (closed in the book)
•    glossy paper pages (closed in the book)
•    magazine pages (closed in the magazine)
•    children’s board books (closed in the book)
•    archival folders (stacked together)

“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.”

COVID-19 is still an emerging threat and the body of work specific to this virus continues to evolve. Project updates are posted at REALM as they become available.

June 29, 2020
Battelle Insider
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