Pandemic Reading

Pandemic Reading is a series of seven blog posts about books relating to epidemics in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, ranging from the mid-16th to the mid-19th centuries. These books attest to the interest in all aspects of epidemic disease among the library’s past readers. They include fiction, reportage, autobiography, graphic arts, and medical/scientific literature.

These blogs were written while the Library Company was closed to readers and staff alike due to the COVID-19 epidemic, and it is a premise of the project that I have not been able to see, much less read any of the books I discuss. I have had to depend on our online catalog and our digital collections, as well as my memory of many of the books. Images of books are in most cases taken from the Internet, meaning that they are pictures of other copies of materials. Understanding that my readers can’t read these books either, I often provide links to images of the full text of the originals from such resources as the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg.

Pandemic Reading is also about quarantine and isolation, and about living and working by means of digital surrogates. I write these blogs as a response to this predicament, and in hopes that the many participants in the Library Company community will enjoy finding continuities with our predecessors who also got through difficult times by reading books.

Jim Green, Librarian