STRANGE TIMES 2020 – have we been here before?
This is one of a series of posts inspired by the 2020 Covid 19 pandemic. You can also see an article about the ephemera of the Spanish Flu in Australia in the soon to be released issue of The Ephemera Journal of Australia. OK there may be a further delay as our printer probably can’t operate until mid September. You will receive a copy if you join the Society $40/$25 a year or you can buy a single issue for $20 including postage.
In order to prevent the spread of disease by means of library books, a sterilising apparatus has been brought out in New York. It consists of a double- walled box of iron, in which are shelves for the reception of the books. The Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 February 1899, p. 4.
Despite this early report about books spreading disease, the procedure didn’t seem to be adopted here on any significant scale until the 1930s.
KEEPING GERMS AT BAY New Way to Sterilise Books
The old objections to the lending library as a carrier of germs have been overcome by the latest book steriliser, one of which has just been installed at the Myer Emporium.
In a neat glass case yesterday half a dozen books were standing while a current of air, impregnated with a powerful disinfectant, was forced through their pages for four hours. As soon as they were removed from the steriliser, every trace of odor of the disinfectant vanished, and they were ready to hand on to the members of the Lending Library, which has just been established by this enterprising firm. There are more than 3.000 books of fiction, travel, biography, the classics, and modern problems, not to mention children’s books on the shelves. Each one has had the cover treated with transparent lacquer, so that it is possible to actually wash them in hot water. The library is situated in the beautifully appointed Plaza Tea Rooms….The Advertiser and Register (Adelaide), 17 March 1931, p. 14.
LIBRARY BOOKS Sterilisation Necessary
All books returned to lending libraries should be sterilised before being again put into circulation, according to the health inspectors of Victoria, who passed a motion to this effect at their conference yesterday. The Age (Melbourne), 29 September 1938, p. 8.
A Trove search finds many advertisements making the sterilisation of books a point of difference from 1930 to 1938. Advertisements selling these circulating libraries referred to the sterilising equipment as one of the chattels.
KING’S NEW HYGIENIC LIBRARY
2000 BRAND NEW BOOKS All Books sterilised prior to re-issue, in specially constructed Hygienic Cabinet
….NOW OPEN; E. F. KING, Newport News Agency 376 Melbourne Road, Newport. Williamstown Chronicle (Vic), 15 November 1930, p. 4.
LIBRARY.—Mod. shop, 5 r., In east, sub., rent £2. 1000 APPROX. GOOD BOOKS, steriliser, £3 WKLY. PROFIT OVER RENT, 350 subscribers; GENUINE; £250. BURTON &_COOKE,_8)_Swanston-st C.. 1982 The Age (Melbourne), 1 August 1933, p. 14.
John Arnold has written an article about these circulating libraries which were sometimes a substitute for the standard public library and at other times had a ‘racier’ offering: ‘Choose your author as you would choose a friend: Circulating libraries in Melbourne, 1930-1960’.
Dayble’s Hygienic Library
Some of the Latest Editions Sexational Eve (Wilson Collison) Mating woman (Lois Bull) Her Wanton Majesty (Gleb Botkin) Wild (Vera Brown) The Purple Ball (Frank L. Packard) Golden Dawn (Peter B. Kyne)
ALL BOOKS STERILISED BEFORE RE-ISSUE OVER 2000 NEW BOOKS TO CHOOSE FROM. COR. CITY RD. & MONTAGUE ST., SOUTH MELBOURNE. The Record (Emerald Hill, Vic.), 10 March 1934, p. 1.
We have not been able to track down any information about Mason’s? An anyone assist?
From reader Richard Travers: In answer to your question about Mason’s Hygenic Library, this was Stinton’s Hygienic Library. In Eric Stinton’s son-in-law Bill Mason renamed it when he took it over in 1963. See John Arnold’s great article on Melbourne’s circulating libraries in the La Trobe Journal, 1987.
Christine Simons says
I can remember the labels in library books in the 1950s ,this was left over from from those days of sterilisation. I knew all about germs, my mother had done a year of microbiology in a science degree, the ‘magic’ of antibiotics was still fairly new. Before, if you survived three days of pneumonia naturally, you’d be ok.
Des Cowley says
A former colleague of mine at State Library Victoria, Ken Frazer, now sadly passed, used to have dinner every Friday night at a café ‘Pepper’, in Flemington. When the owners were carrying out some renovations a few years back, they uncovered a sign on the front of the building: “Girdwood’s Hygenic Library’. They had no idea what it could have referred to. Fortunately, Ken was enjoying his pizza when he overheard them talking about it, and, being in his eighties and a librarian, he was able to fill them in on the history of circulating libraries and Spanish flu. The café has since made a feature of it, which can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/phunnyfotos/34978764361
Amazing luck to have Ken on the spot.
Very interesting article. I shudder to think what an unhygienic library must look like. For a time I corresponded with a member from The Ephemera Society in Britain, whose collection included a sizeable number of disinfected mail items, originally fumigated before being sent through the postal system from places such as quarantine stations, hospitals, leper colonies, and the like. Not sure if I have any articles about his collection, but I may be able to fish something out of back copies of the English Ephemera Journal.
Richard Travers says
In answer to your question about Mason’s Hygenic Library, this was Stinton’s Hygienic Library. In Eric Stinton’s son-in-law Bill Mason renamed it when he took it over in 1963. See John Arnold’s great article on Melbourne’s circulating libraries in the La Trobe Journal, 1987.
Thanks Richard, we should have put two and two together as we had circulated John’s article to interested members a couple of years ago.