Santa Blogs XXXI | Newberry

Santa Blogs XXXI

Dear Santa Blogs:

I have been reading your letters to the book loving public for some years, and have always thrilled to your description of the thrills awaiting those who get secondhand books at this time of year. But recently, my niece, who watches a lot of health alerts on the evening news, asked me how you can suggest such a thing? “Hasn’t Santa heard of germs?” she demanded. “Who knows if the last owner of the book was reading while lying sick in bed?” Is it true, Santa Blogs? Does anyone looking through the ancient books at the Newberry ever come down with bubonic plague?

Seriously In Quandary

Dear SIQ:

Of course, books are largely made from paper, and paper is made primarily from trees these days. Trees are plants. So basically, according to your niece, those books under the tree (wrapped in paper, no less) are simply heaps of dead plants. You’re giving and getting mulch again this year, eh?

As a matter of fact, these plants have been rendered largely inert. A very small number of creepy crawlies like to EAT paper (bookworms, silverfish, etc.) but almost none like to LIVE there. Bacteria and viruses prefer a warm, moist living space.

We went through a major fuss about this a few years ago, when bedbugs were on everyone’s mind, at the very least. “DO you screen all your donations for bedbugs?” a customer demanded, one July. I felt this was a minor concern, as someone who has opened thousands of boxes of books, and has even, to his dismay, had to sleep on books a few times (not at the Newberry) without ill effects. But I consulted our Gatekeepers in the Conservation Department: the people who screen the books which come into the collection, to be sure they contain nothing catching.

Bedbugs, apparently did not make the top ten, or even top hundred, of things they worry about. Those aforementioned creatures which eat books are a concern: the boxes may have been packed up while they were in having a snack. Mold, on books which have been poorly stored, is a concern. Bedbugs just aren’t on their Most Unwanted list. When the curators recently found a spider which had been smashed between pages at some point in the fifteenth century, the Newberry all but cheered. They had a treasure previously unsuspected, for all those biologists and DNA studiers out there.

As for the bad bugs which lurk below our vision, in the microscopic world, they are as mortal as any of us. Without encouragement, they die, and the dry, chemical-ridden pages of a book are not congenial to them. You may breathe easy.

Unless, of course, you are one of those people who lick their fingers while turning pages. That’s kind of a dangerous addiction in any case. Not only are you leaving your own microbes for future researchers, but you are exposing yourself to whatever any previous finger-licker left behind. There’s even a story about a man who knew about his enemy’s habit, and painted the edges of the pages with poison to take advantage of it.

And I take no responsibility for any books bearing ancient spells or possessed by the spirits of angry bygone poets who hate everyone who doesn’t love their verse. Santa Blogs is not an expert on these supernatural infections, but he does hope that if any book you buy here has a curse attached, it’s just whatever your Significant Other mutters right after demanding, “Where do you think we have room for THAT?”

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