Pandemics and Library History

As history researchers, we believe that historiography has intrinsic value but also practical utility–the past can provide encouragement and guidance for the present. Therefore, here are some historical articles, books, and other sources on libraries and epidemics or related disasters. While each disaster is unique, perhaps there may be some knowledge from the past that can help us in the present.

Some of these resources are available in full text open access; others you can likely find in your library’s databases. Do you know of other resources about libraries and pandemics? Please email us at the blog at

Blessings and best wishes for good health to all library staff and all our patrons.

Libraries, Pandemics, and Public Health

Adams, Scott. “Public Health Library.” Library Journal (1876) 79 (April 11, 1954): 2165–68.

Akinade, Awoyemi R., and Olaniyi E. Temitope. “Librarians’ Initiated HIV /AIDS Prevention Intervention Efforts in Selected Rural Communities in Oyo State, Nigeria.” Library Philosophy & Practice, February 2013, 18.

“ALA Received a Grant from the US Public Health Service.” Library Journal (1876) 89 (August 8, 1964): 1715.

Ash, J. “Library Use of Public Health Materials.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 62 (October 1974): 424.

Atchison, Mary M. “Books and Germs.” Bulletin of the New Hampshire Public Libraries 41 (September 1945): 76–77.

Black, Alistair. “The Library as Clinic: A Foucauldian Interpretation of British Public Library Attitudes to Social and Physical Disease, ca. 1850-1950,” Libraries & Culture 40 (Summer 2005): 416-34.

“Books and Germs”, The Cedarville Herald, November 28, 1902, 42.

“Books and Infectious Diseases.” Illinois Libraries 27 (March 1945): 161–62.

“Books and the Common Cold.” Publishers’ Circular & the Publisher & Bookseller 164 (April 22, 1950): 475.

“Bookworm Plague.” Wilson Library Bulletin 29 (April 1955): 622–24.

Brush, M. L. “Nurse and the Public Library.” American Journal of Public Health 22 (January 2, 1932): 1197.

“Disinfecting Books.” Hygeia 3 (January 1925): 358–651.

Dixon, Jessica D. Measles on Main Street, USA: How Public Health Events Affect Public Library Policy. UNC Chapel Hill Theses, 2016.

Dolan, Rosemary. Bibliotherapy in Hospitals: An Annotated Bibliography, 1900-1961. Medical and General Reference Library, 1962.

Ellis, Ryan. “Disinfecting the Mail: Disease, Panic, and the Post Office Department in Nineteenth-Century America.” Information & Culture 52, no. 4 (October 2017): 436–61. doi:10.7560/IC52403.

Ewing, E. Thomas, Samah Gad, Naren Ramakrishnan, and Jeffrey S. Reznick. “Understanding the Role of Medical Experts during a Public Health Crisis: Digital Tools and Library Resources for Research on the 1918 Spanish Influenza.” In 2014 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data), pp. 39-46. IEEE, 2014.

Fidler, Susan J., and S. J. Fidler. “Classification of Viruses for Information Retrieval.” Aslib Proceedings 33 (April 2, 1981): 141–42.

Fitzpatrick, Mae V. “Building a Health Library.” Public Health Nursing 27 (September 1935): 477–78.

Frank, B., Dr. “Rogers Presented with the U. S. Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal.” College & Research Libraries 25 (May 1964): 213.

Goldstein, C. M., and Becky Lyon-Hartmann. “Recommended Data Elements for the Descriptive Cataloging of Computer-Based Educational Materials in the Health Services.” Library Resources & Technical Services 22 (April 15, 1978): 191–95.

“Grants to Build Medical Libraries Awarded by the U.S. Public Health Service.” Wilson Library Bulletin 42 (April 1968): 778.

Greenberg, Gerald S. “Books as Disease Carriers, 1880-1920.” Libraries & Culture 23, no. 3 (June 1988): 281–94.

Hayes, Joseph. “When the Public Feared that Library Books Could Spread Deadly Diseases.” Smithsonian Magazine (August 30, 2019):

Hunter, Judith. “Hospital Library Service of the New South Wales Department of Public Health.” Australian Library Journal 9 (January 1960): 43–47.

“Infectious Books.” Librarian & Book World 30 (June 1941): 182–83.

Jordan, C. F. “Books and Communicable Diseases.” Iowa Library Quarterly 14 (October 2, 1941): 54.

Kees, N. A. “Libraries of the United States Public Health Service.” Special Libraries 26 (September 1935): 207–9.

Kimball, Melanie A. “From Refuge to Risk: Public Libraries and Children in World War I.” Library Trends 55, no. 3 (Winter 2007): 454–63. doi:10.1353/lib.2007.0010.

Lopdell, John. “Public Health and Public Library.” New Zealand Libraries 7 (May 1944): 62–64.

Macrum, Adeline Marie. “Community Service of a Public Health Library.” Special Libraries 19 (January 1928): 42–43.

Mahajan, Preeti, and Rishabh Shrivastava. “A Scientometric Analysis of World H1N1 Research: A Medical Librarian’s Role.” Journal of Hospital Librarianship 18, no. 3 (July 2018): 233–45. doi:10.1080/15323269.2018.1471914

McGuire, Lisa. “Planning for a Pandemic Influenza Outbreak: Roles for Librarian Liaisons in Emergency Delivery of Educational Programs.” Medical Reference Services Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 1–13. doi:10.1300/J115v26n04_01.

MEDLARS, Story at the National Library of Medicine. Washington D.C., 1963.

Nelson, Forrest. “Libraries and the Nutrition Program: A Round Table Discussion.” Special Libraries 34 (July/August 1943): 262-263.

Nix, Larry. “Contagious Diseases and Library Books.” Library History Buff Blog (March 25, 2011).

Mann, Annika. Reading Contagion: The Hazards of Reading in the Age of Print. University of Virginia Press, 2018.

Orenstein, A. L. “Books and Bacteria.” Wilson Bulletin for Librarians 10 (November 1935): 187.

Quinlan, Nora J. “In Flew Enza.” American Libraries 38, no. 11 (December 2007): 50–53.

Robertson, Guy. Robertson on Library Security and Disaster Planning. Chandos Publishing, 2016. (please see esp. Ch 27 “Pandemic Perspective: How an Outbreak Could Affect Libraries.”)

Smith, M. H. “Library and the Nutrition Program.” Special Libraries 34 (July 4, 1943): 263–65.

“Sterilizing Books Used in a Contagious Disease Hospital.” Modern Hospital 22 (January 1924): 586–87.

Tobey, James A. “Books Not Dangerous as Carriers of Disease.” American City 40 (January 3, 1929): 187.

Treatment of Books Exposed to Contagious Diseases.” Public Libraries 27 (January, 1922): 291

Use of Medical Literature. 2nd Edition. Butterworth & Co, 1977.

Walker, Catherine P. “When the Doctor Prescribes Books.” American Journal of Public Health 22 (January 2, 1932): 174–78. 

Walsh, Joseph A. “Dr Seuss Meets Dr Freud: Primary Prevention in the Community Library.” American Journal of Public Health 67 (June 1977): 561–62.

Zach, Lisl. “What Do I Do in an Emergency? The Role of Public Libraries in Providing Information During Times of Crisis.” Science & Technology Libraries 30, no. 4 (September 2011): 404–13. doi:10.1080/0194262X.2011.626341.