How one digital book led to an important COVID-19 discovery

peter.suber's bookmarks 2022-12-15


"In early 2020, many scientists believed that particles containing COVID-19 were too large to be airborne. Medical canon held that only particles sized 5 microns or smaller could stay in the air long enough to be transmitted between people over 6 feet apart. But a team of scientists questioned the 5 micron figure. Katie Randall, then a graduate student at Virginia Tech, went to work investigating the origin of the number. “I was working on my dissertation when the pandemic hit, and I had to pause in-person research,” says Katie. “I was supposed to focus on revising my research plan, but when I got the email about this project, I knew I couldn’t say no — it was too important and too intriguing to ignore.”

In her research, Katie located an out-of-print book, Airborne Contagion and Air Hygiene: An Ecological Study of Droplet Infections, written by William Firth Wells in 1955. While she normally would have borrowed the book through an agreement between libraries to share items in their collection, pandemic closures meant that was not an option. Fortunately, she was able to locate a digital copy of the book in HathiTrust, a Google Books partner.

HathiTrust is a nonprofit collaborative of academic and research libraries which preserves digitized items — most of which come from partnerships with Google Books. “Early on, our partner libraries dedicated themselves to digital preservation,” says Mike Furlough, Executive Director of HathiTrust. “But even when preservation was the goal, our thoughts were always on providing access for research and scholarship.”

With the help of the digitized book, Katie discovered that the 5 micron threshold had no real scientific basis — in fact, the experiments detailed in Wells’ book showed the aerosolization of particles as big as 100 microns...."


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Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) » peter.suber's bookmarks

Tags: oa.books oa.hathi oa.medicine oa.digitization oa.copyright

Date tagged:

12/15/2022, 09:32

Date published:

12/15/2022, 04:33