Bonfire of the Dust Jackets

Should libraries keep dust jackets, or commit them to the flames? Many hardcover
books come wrapped in protective covers that include not just cover art, but also
information about the author and the book (such as the author's biography and
picture with review quotes), and other material not found elsewhere. Some libraries
shelve their books fully intact, but many others (mostly ivory tower types) have
a tradition of disdain for book covers. Read on for a summary of the pros and
cons of hanging on to jackets, and what libraries can do with them.

Disclaimer: I have no bindery experience beyond using brown paper bags to cover
school textbooks. The points below are based on a cursory survey of AUTOCAT,
and PADG.

Pro -- Keeping dust jackets:

  • preserves and protects the books (from bruises, light, and other elements);
  • retains the (possibly unique) art and information printed on the jackets;
  • makes books easier to remember and identify, and may encourage use.

Con -- It's not worth keeping jackets because:

  • more staff time and cataloging materials are needed than when disposing of
    the jackets;
  • the jackets can fall apart more easily, necessitating more time/materials/staff
    for repairs, and the jacket materials can become sticky -- even mold and mildew
    can appear;
  • it saves shelf space.

The aesthetic advantages of book jackets are up for grabs. Academic libraries
could claim that books without jackets look professional (apparently they would
admire the Spinal Tap album cover), but the visual appeal of diverse cover art
can be just as strong, especially within collections such as art and children's
books. A few other points: larger books with loose jackets can be harder to handle;
book collectors certainly value editions with jackets intact; and jackets coated
with plastic can cause glare problems with self-checkout systems reading the UPC
bar code.

So what can be done with book jackets? Depending on the library, dust jackets

  • thrown in the recycle bin before they are ever seen by library users;
  • displayed on bulletin boards in lieu of a new books shelf;
  • kept loose and marked with a second spine label;
  • attached to the cover with equipment such as mylar, book boards, and (presumably
    acid-free) tape.

The preferred cataloging policies recognize the need to follow these rules
on a case-by-case basis (e.g., What if the text refers to a graph on the dust
jacket? What if the jacket becomes mutilated? What if the source of catalog data
appears only on the jacket?). Sometimes portions of the jackets are attached to
the inside covers. A separate book jacket collection could even be formed for
special items.

Library users see cover images at bookstores, online booksellers, and now even
in library products such as WorldCat and Books In Print. It's a shame that some
libraries partially demolish their acquisitions and don't let their users see
the covers at all. A library's mission to preserve entire books seems to
override concerns over shelf space or other surmountable obstacles. Dressing a
book in its chosen visual identity protects not only its physical properties,
but also preserves the cover's power as a selling tool while the book is on the
shelf. Cutting corners by trashing part of a purchased book drastically sells
it short and is a disservice to its users.

If you're aware of a library that discards their book jackets, ask the administration
why this is done. Mumbling something about the cost of stickers or that "we've
always done it that way" is no excuse.


Many public libraries keep dust jackets, and cover the book with plastic to project the book and jacket.

Most academic libraries throw the dust jackets out, and don't cover the books with plastic.

hmm, maybe academic libraries just want their books to look more serious ;-)

I find it's easier to browse for a book without a jacket (since the text on the spine is usually quite uniform), but I would prefer that libraries find some way of keeping the jacket. Jackets are beautiful!

At the library where I work I keep the jacket and cover with plastic so that it doesn't fall off or get damaged. Yes it costs a little more because you have to buy the plastic and takes a little more time, but our users are more likely to look at a book if it has a picture on the cover instead of just text on the spine. More aesthetically pleasing for displays too.

In Massachusetts, Cambridge Public Library labels over pertinent information on the inside cover or the covers' facing page. Many books have maps, illustrations or informative details on the inside cover or on the inside covers' facing page. Feedback about it gets the usual bureaucratic response, that is nothing gets done to rectify the defacement by CPL technical services department people.

The really interesting thing that I've noticed, is that bookstores will not buy books without dust-jackets, it's a major source of their value. Hence, removing them from books decreases the book's theft value, and frees up a potential source of revenue, as well as not having to buy plastic to cover them, repair costs etc. All at the cost of some art.I like dust-jackets, but they are a hassle.I guess it all depends on what you're willing to pay for.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL®ˇ

of throwing out the dust jackets. Believe me, it is not by choice and I feel such sadness when I am throwing away a beautifully illustrated cover. I have also worked in publishing and I know how much time and energy goes into designing these wonderful jackets. It is a shame. Maybe instead of throwing them out I will start collecting them...

Join my Save the Dust Jackets Campaign! :)

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