Banner for COVID-19


What we have been doing to ensure the safety of readers in the time of COVID-19.


What we do for our book collections:

Time is the best disinfectant. When books are returned via the book drop, self-check machines, and transferred between library locations, they are quarantined for a minimum of 48 hours before being reshelved or otherwise processed. At the Main Library the average quarantine period is one week. This protocol was implemented in February 2020 and will remain in place until further notice. This is the preferred way of handling library materials, as it is the only proven method to protect both the people who visit HKUL and our collections.


Here are some other measures that have been implemented with the goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the Libraries.

  • Face-to-face interactions are limited by asking borrowers to return books at designated locations rather than handing them to a staff member at a service counter.

  • Inquiries are handled via WhatsApp, emails, Zoom and phone calls.

  • Seating in the Libraries has been rearranged to allow greater distance between individuals.

  • Surfaces are disinfected regularly.

  • All persons entering the library (including staff) undergo a temperature check and must wear a mask properly.

  • Frequent hand washing is encouraged, and hand sanitizer is provided.

  • Staff and visitors should not enter the building if feeling unwell.


1. What we know about books and coronavirus:

The virus has a limited life outside of its host. It can survive on different surfaces for various amounts of time. In general, the virus will remain viable for a longer time on smooth and solid surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic (door knobs, counters, hand rails), and less time on more porous and uneven surfaces such as textiles, paper and cardboard (library materials).

While SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed by various methods such as time, cleaning and exposure to certain lights, most of these procedures come with caveats.

Time – by quarantining objects that might have been exposed to the virus, we can be certain the virus will eventually die. However, this takes time and specific protocols must be set and carefully followed.

Cleaning – Soap and water, bleach solutions, alcohol and proprietary disinfectants can kill the coronavirus. Some work quickly and effectively. However, these methods and chemicals can cause damage to library materials and would require staff to wear appropriate PPE, as the cleaning agents can be toxic to humans.

UV light – UV light (sunlight) can reduce the coronavirus on surfaces. However, many machines that expose library materials to UV light do not always meet the requirements for duration of exposure and intensity of the light source to guarantee 100% eradication of the virus. In addition, any areas of shadow, or pages inside the book (where the light does not shine), will not receive the benefits of exposure to the light. In addition, it is well documented that UV light is a source of chemical degradation, resulting in brittleness of paper and fading of colours.


2. References and Resources

Medicine Subject Guides: Resources on COVID-19

  • HKUL Libguide on research, medical/health resources, thematic collections by publishers, links to global health and medical websites, grants, updates and local information

“Time is the Best Disinfectant”

American Library Association (ALA) Preservation Resources

Canadian Conservation Institute

Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

International Federation of Libraries Association (IFLA)

New England Journal of Medicine
[Note: SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes the disease we refer to as COVID-19.]

  • van Doremalen, Neeltje, et al. "Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1." New England Journal of Medicine 382.16 (2020): 1564-1567. Journals@Ovid Full Text. Web. 05 May. 2020.

World Health Organization