I love libraries, but they’re not allergy-friendly.

Picture this: You’re reading a book from the library, and your friend offers you a nutty candy bar. You don’t think twice about how, even if you wipe your hands on your pants or a napkin, the book itself will still be contaminated for the next person. You can’t see the allergens anywhere on the book. You don’t even know they’re there.

This is what cross-contamination looks, sounds, and is like.

Library shelves filled with books
© Pixabay/Pexels

I support libraries, but I can’t use them without taking a risk. I’ve a love/hate relationship with discussions encouraging people to use libraries instead of shopping, to buy used books instead of new.

It’s ableist, ignorant, and frustrating — and I don’t even care enough anymore to argue my point, to say that libraries are full of allergens. Maybe it’s not food, but dust mites. Or dust in general. Or it’s bed bugs and you’ve got bed bug PTSD. Or it’s a sensory thing, in that you can’t stand the smell of the books or that plastic binding. And you can’t sanitize the books, and you have a limited amount of time to read them, and you can’t keep it for eternity.

For me, it’s everything.

For me, it’s accepting that I might need an ambulance ride (expensive) after using one or both epinephrine injectors ($282 for both) so the emergency room (even more expensive) can monitor my vitals and ensure that I’m okay — and then prescribe me steroids and replacement epinephrine injectors.

It’s a lot to expect someone to take a chance on.

You can put up allergy signage, and people are still going to fight the allergy-free rules. There’s always going to be someone whose allergy is not accommodated, who wonders why their rarer allergy (e.g. potato) is not viewed as important as the nut allergies. Mostly, though, there will be an entire conservative mom group who thinks your life-threatening allergy is your problem and that you’re a snowflake for wanting a safe space to read books.

So…no.

I don’t use libraries. I don’t see myself using one in the future.

This post is linked up to the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by FYFA and IS@M.

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So what’s the solution? I’m sorry you are going through this, life-threatening allergies are no easy cross to bear, but what’s the solution? Yes, you can ask that I be mindful of such things, and as a decent human being, I’ll do my best, but the reality is that I’m not keyed into everything that could possibly go wrong for you and even with the best of intentions, if you have some weird allergy I could cause problems for you—and then there are the people who just don’t care, or have too much going on in their own lives to be able to care. It sounds like you’ve figured out that you can’t take the change, and I’m sorry for that, but what’s the solution? Do you take libraries away from all of us? Support a program that would require a certain handling of new books, and the ability of people with doctor’s note to be the first to read? What’s the answer?

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First and foremost, it is exhausting to be an underrepresented person because sharing my experience living my life often results in people expecting [me/the person] to resolve everything. Bundle enough of us together, and you have a handful of what is essentially a minority group being asked and/or expected to educate and resolve the problems of the world — an extremely ableist, often lazy expectation. It happens with autistic people and even in regard to racism. It is not the job of disabled people, as disabled people, to make the world less ableist.

Second, the generation graduating/starting to take lead now is keen to fix everything, akin to Millennials, but when they go looking for fixes that have none, it tends to lead to fixing a system that wasn’t broken to begin with. My solution is buying my own books and simply not using a library; my post was an attempt to illustrate this and emphasize that jumping to conclusions and encouraging everyone to use libraries is as much of a privileged recommendation as encouraging people to not shop via Amazon — I could go off on a tangent for that, but it’s been a long day so I digress.

My solution is avoiding the library; some things are simply not safe, and you learn to accept that when you’re allergic to a lot of things. It’s a huge inconvenience, but people also start to learn and emphasize with you when they glimpse just how an allergy affects you. At work, we are fixing the on-hands amounts to match what we actually have, and I was assigned health, beauty & accessories (HBA) with an associate for help. On the aisles we worked — shampoo, body wash, skincare, hair dye, hair styling, etc. — I could only safely work five out of 24 total sections for the two aisles. On the next aisle, I could only safely work 5/12sections. The guy helping me thought I was exaggerating at first, or just being lazy, but once I started showing him that these products contain argan oil, macadamia oil, eucalyptus and/or almond oil or “fragrance”, which can contain up to 400 minuscule amounts of different ingredients, and that these products are not regulated like food is — so companies are not required to test or note whether something contains any of the Top 8 allergens.

One solution may be gloves, but they don’t work with the scanner and tear easily; some oils can still get through as well, so they would be The scanner would also be contaminated, and then I’d be really screwed. The risk was not worth it. There was no adequate fix other than to it.

It doesn’t mean libraries must be taken away, and I definitely don’t recommend a doctor’s note for it because that brings up a classism/diagnosis issue. It is expensive to get an allergist, and not every insurance covers that. Or they don’t have an active doctor/only go to the ER or urgent care when they’ve exhausted all other options because access to healthcare is lacking.

I don’t have the answer beyond what I do. A program would help some people, but not everyone. There’s not a fix for everything, and I’m not equipped to fix this, either. I also don’t have interest, because my only solution is to not use the library. Books cannot entirely be sanitized.

The thing about severe life-threatening allergies is that, unless you kill it with bleach (also safely), there is still a chance. Residue of that allergen could be anywhere, and a teeny tiny amount could cause anaphylaxis in certain individuals. If libraries bother someone with such allergies, they are likely the type of people affected by minuscule amounts of their allergens.

The only solution is avoidance (anyone with severe allergies), empathy for us (not sympathy) and awareness. In my experience, a lot of people jump to the conclusion that libraries are for everyone; it’s a lot of trouble to explain why when someone asks — e.g. I’m sure your library has it! I can’t use the library. ?? everyone can use the library. I have life-threatening food allergies and can’t take the risk. 🙄 I have food allergies, too, and have no problem. Just look at your library.

Other allergic people, however, may use the library for tech — in which case decontaminating for potential cross-contact is the best route.

Might be useful: https://www.peanutallergy.com/boards/library-books-0

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I worry about that when I read library books. I don’t have allergies but my husband does have life threatening food allergies. I’m on constant watch for cross contamination for him. I try to keep library books as clean as I can. It is one of the reasons that I much prefer ebooks from the library. I’m sure that people who don’t live with severe allergies have never even considered.

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I’d never really thought about allergies and libraries, I’ll confess. I would imagine that these types of life-threatening allergies limit your activities in many ways, and this is just one more example. I guess it’s nice that you can still use your library’s ebooks and audiobooks – I use them a lot at my library!

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Sensory-wise and neurodivergent-wise, I’ve found physical books are much better for me regarding reading experience. I’m hard-of-hearing, so I don’t do audiobooks much because to do them, I still need closed captioning. 😩

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