FUKUOKA -- An increasing number of public libraries in Japan are introducing book sterilizer machines and e-books amid the prolonged coronavirus pandemic -- moves that some hope will encourage reading and boost library visits.
At Fukuoka Prefectural Library in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka, books were seen standing inside a device resembling a microwave oven. When a staffer pushed a start button, a blue light shined inside. The device is a book sterilizer machine that applies ultraviolet light and a deodorizing antimicrobial agent to books and blows away particles such as dust between the pages. It is self-service and can disinfect up to six books at a time in about 30 seconds. A person in charge commented, "We'd like to recommend this to those who are concerned about viruses."
The prefectural library temporarily closed between Feb. 28 and May 18 last year, when the "first wave" of the coronavirus spread. When it reopened, it took thorough measures to prevent infections, including installing a thermographic camera that measures visitors' temperatures, making antiseptic solutions available and limiting visitors' time in the library to two hours or less. Even so, there were users who remained concerned about touching books handled by others.
One woman in her 60s who lives in the city's Higashi Ward said she had been wiping borrowed books with alcohol antiseptics before. She was pleased about the library's decision, saying, "I can borrow books with more peace of mind as it has sterilizer machines."
Libraries installing book sterilizer machines have spread nationwide. sold 945 units of LIVA book sterilizer has been introduced to Japan between April 2020 and January 2021 -- 4.7 times the number sold in the previous seven years.
Takenori Noguchi, a professor at Senshu University whose specialty is library and information science, commented, "Introducing sterilizer machines to eliminate users' concerns is understandable." But he added, "An excessive response is not necessary because there have been no cases in which the coronavirus has spread via library books."
As for e-libraries, Noguchi welcomed their widespread introduction amid the pandemic, saying, "They have the potential to draw in a new demographic group whose members have seldom been to libraries, such as young people and those who have been busy working."