books · libraries

Like a Car Wash for Books: How Libraries Clean Reading Materials

As much as I like to imagine that library books remain perfectly clean, the reality is a little different. Sometimes books get gunky. Oil from people’s skin rubs off onto them. Someone spills a cup of coffee on a book cover. A child drops her novel in the garden. In cases like these, libraries have to put a little work into cleaning the reading material.

On April 20, 2017, the Boston Public Library tweeted a video of their ingenious machine that helps them clean books. (You can see the video below.)

The machine is known as a Depulvera, and it really does look a bit like a car wash. Books are set on its conveyor belt and are run through a series of spinning brushes. This cleans the surface of up to 12 books a minute, assuming the person feeding the books into the Depulvera has a good rhythm. Of course the machine doesn’t resolve any major damage to the inside of the books – those chocolate stains on page 72 are going to stay there – but it leaves the covers looking lovely. And have no fear; the library says that it doesn’t use the machine on rare books or books with dust covers, so no books should be damaged by it.

I don’t have many books in need of dire cleaning, but I have to admit that I’m a little jealous of the machine. Maybe I can work on getting one for my local library…

Brian Johnson, “Boston Public Library Reading Room,” October 2, 2013, via Wikimedia.


30 thoughts on “Like a Car Wash for Books: How Libraries Clean Reading Materials

  1. Interesting. I wonder how much the machine costs to acquire and use. In the library I worked in, once a book became “grubby,” it was discarded. If use warranted, and it was still in print, it would be replaced. Cleaning of any sort was not considered worth the staff time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think your method is how most libraries deal with grime. Boston Public Library is so huge though that it may make sense for them to invest in a machine like this. (For my hometown library, it would probably be ridiculous.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it must make sense in a really large library. Freshening up the outsides of books would probably increase their shelf appeal. They probably discard books with significant inside damage such as highlighting, underlining or suspicious looking stains.

        Liked by 2 people

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