Stripping Book Jackets.

From the Letters to the Editor page of the Dec. 2 TLS:

Book jackets

Bernard Richards (Letters, November 25) asks if the Bodleian Library continues its “evil and reprehensible” practice of stripping book jackets. I can’t speak for the Bodleian, but it is certainly the case that the British Library has stripped book jackets from the day it was founded, and has not stopped. I became aware of this sustained vandalism in 2011, when I was asked by its curators to provide some covers for a BL exhibition – all examples held in-house had been defaced as a matter of principle. There may be some derelict (but unargued) bibliographical propriety involved in this imposition of cultural amnesia from “above”. But propriety, as we know, is theft.

John Clute
London NW1

I join Richards and Clute in strongly objecting to the practice, but I like the last line very much.


  1. But… but… why? To save a bit of space on the shelves?

  2. I know, it seems nuts. I’m hoping a librarian will weigh in with an explanation.

  3. OK, a (retired) librarian speaks: imagine the state of an unprotected dustjacket after even just a few loans (or even a few careless uses or shelving mishaps within a ref-only library like BL or Bodleian). The only way to prevent them getting torn and dirty is, obviously, to enclose the “protective” jacket in a protective cover of its own. These are not cheap, multiplied by the number of accessions in a library of any size, and require time and surprisingly skilled effort to apply.

    Also, dustjackets were regarded by everybody as disposable until well into the 20th century — even fancy ones by Hogarth Press and the like — that’s why they’re rare and sought after!

    As Ranganathan’s first law of librarianship states: Books are for use. Libraries are not antiquarian bookshops…


  4. The only way

    aside from, among other strategies, glueing the dust jacket to the boards, which is fairly simple, pretty elegant, and reasonably durable. a number of libraries i’ve known have done this, and some have applied the same approach to the covers of rebound massmarket paperbacks* (in the days when such books were rebound before entering the stacks).

    and that last line is indeed excellent!

    * an especially important gesture for those of us who against all advice do take cover art into account in deciding what sf to read next.

  5. My local library keeps books with dust jackets and nothing particularly bad happens to them. Now, maybe they are modern, sturdy covers unlike historic flimsy types, but then “evil and reprehensible practice” should have been changed at some point. The jackets in the library are attached to the covers, though. Apparently so they won’t get lost. It is somewhat inconvenient because I like to use the flaps of the jackets as bookmarks.

  6. I’d think a deposit library, like the BL (formerly BML), which does not loan out books, would want to keep everything. A good balance would be to store the jackets separately.

  7. A good balance would be to store the jackets separately.

    Yes, in fact I sometimes do that when I’m reading a nice hardcover and don’t want to wreck the cover. Then when I’m finished I put the cover back on the book and the book back on the shelf.

  8. A plastic “protective jacket” after several borrowings may itself become gross, sometimes resulting in it and the paper jacket being both discarded.

  9. David L. Gold says

    In 2012, I wrote to the Library of Congress:

    From the two copies of the following title held by a local library I am unable to read four lines on the back cover that are crucial to my research because the library has placed unremovable stickers over the text:

    Korach, Myron. 2008. Common Phrases and Where They Come From. “In collaboration with John Mordock.” Guilford, Connecticut. The Lyons Press.

    The four lines, which concern the authors’ credentials, begin with the words “Myron Korach was born in 1901….” and continue with “John Mordock, a psychologist.…”

    If possible, I would appreciate a scan of those lines. Thank you.

    The library’s response:

    I have examined our copy of “Common Phrases and Where They Come From.”  As is the case with virtually all of our books, the cover or dust jacket is discarded.  I am sorry that that I can not answer your question about the missing lines on the back cover.

    To find other libraries holding this book, you might want to search OCLC WorldCat. [….].

    I wrote to a friend who at the time was the director of the Price Library of Judaica (University of Florida) not so much in the hope that he could find the lost lines but because from time to time in our correspondence one or the other of us had mentioned a library’s blunder (such as the pornographic book in Yidish held by the New York Public Library, which the library’s printed catalog had classified as “rabbinical literature” vel sim.).

    His response:

    I have fought many wars in our library system in favor of retaining the covers when softcover editions were sent out to the commercial bindery.

    In order to retain the covers in the Judaica Library, my staff had to undertake all the binding preparation, the record-keeping required for each boxed shipment, and the entire post-receipt processing (the only alternative would have been to have the central binding unit at our library do all the preparation for binding, which would have resulted in the loss of all the covers).

    I consider the loss of the covers a form of vandalism because of the lost biographical information, the lost photo of the author, and the lost artwork.

    Another example of libraries’ blunders:

    In the 1960s libraries in the United States began replacing many of their books and periodicals by microfilms (if available) because they needed space for new publications.

    One of the publications replaced was a newspaper which, exceptionally, had an important article about the origin of a certain English word that for decades had been (and still is) the subject of controversy (exceptionally, because very little of any reliability has appeared in the press about the origin of the word whereas the author of the important article was clearly writing with first-hand knowledge of the matter).

    The article is available in many libraries in microfilm, but in all the microfilms I examined only part of the last column (of about five) is visible. It turned out that the person at the New York Public Library making the microfilm did not place the page properly on the microfilming machine, as a result of which much of that column was not photographed.

    That library then discarded its paper copy and began selling the microfilm with the defectively photographed article to other libraries. Those buying it then discarded their paper copies of the periodical. Every one of those libraries, therefore, has the same defective copy made at the New York Public Library.

    Sometime in the 1980s The American Scholar carried a long article about the baneful effects of that massive effort to microfilm as much as possible. My understanding is that a (human) checker must now examine each page of the microfilm to make sure that everything has been photographed and everything is legible.

  10. Many local public libraries can not afford protective covers.
    When sending a paperback to be bound, of course keeping the paper covers is helpful for readers, though not always helpful for text block preservation.
    Microfilm or digital scanning has some pros. For some cons:
    Double fold : libraries and the assault on paper
    Nicholson Baker.
    New York : Random House, c2001.

  11. I imagine staff might on occasion appropriate a particularly fine dust jacket from the recycle bin.

    And there must be books where the jacket is not merely a wrapper but an integral part of the work, referenced in the main body.

  12. In some cases, such as David Gold’s, scholars might have to go back to the way it was 100+ years ago, where you had to rely on building your own library (with the help of book dealers) rather than use inadequate public ones.

  13. The practice at UK public libraries (organised at county level) seems to be to fold the jacket in non-sticky plastic and tape the ends to the insides of the boards. I have often taken out books more than thirty years old where this is still in pretty good condition. In a couple of cases where the plastic was breaking up, I have removed it and replaced it with the archive-grade plastic I use for my own books. For my own books I don’t tape the ends down, of course.

  14. One possible reason some lending libraries discard paper jackets is to avoid duplicating call number tags on the spine. (Some cut the paper cover enough to show the call number on the bound spine.) Similarly, if they use them externally, with barcodes. Rare book rooms generally avoid sticking anything on those books or jackets, relying on removable inserts or added boxing.

  15. For whatever reason, there is a tradition (Western European? Anglophone?) that the soft covers or dust covers somehow “don’t count” as part of a book. The policy of regularly rebinding books clearly has something to do with this developing, but I don’t know the details.

    Just now, as my students were preparing for their final exam (now ongoing), I remarked that one of them was the only person I had ever seen who systematically kept the dust cover on his copy of Jackson’s Classical Electrodynamics. Several years ago, when my own desk copy of the third edition arrived in the mail, the dust cover looked qualitatively wrong on it. Although I had used all three editions over the years, I had never seen the dust cover in place.

  16. Some paperback rebinding decisions on keeping or disposing paper covers may depend on whether the original is, e.g., glued or sewn. I have seen cases where both paper covers and rebinding hard covers both separated from the text block while the two cover layers stayed together.

    Another matter for careful rebinding is whether text might be lost in the gutter.
    Music score bindings should allow flat opening.

    If I recall correctly, I tried to read a copy of
    Notes and materials for an adequate biography of the celebrated divine and theosopher, William Law.
    Comprising an elucidation of the scope and contents of the writings of Jacob Bohme, and of his great commentator, Dionysius Andreas Freher. (1854)
    into which the author, Christopher Walton, had later carefully added extensive handwritten corrections and annotations.
    The rebinders had trimmed the pages–excising some of his annotations!

  17. “Только суперобложка позволяет дать волю фантазии в решении формальных задач. Хоть и не будет ошибкой оформить суперобложку в том же стиле, что и книгу, но она, как маленький плакат, должна бросаться в глаза, поэтому тут позволено многое из того, что в самой книге недопустимо. К сожалению, в наши дни из-за роскошных цветных суперобложек часто злостно пренебрегают настоящей одеждой книги — переплетом. Наверное, поэтому многие люди имеют скверную привычку сохранять суперобложку и в ней ставить книгу на полку. Я допускаю это только в том случае, если переплет очень убог или уродлив…”

    Jan Tschichold, Ausgewählte Aufsätze über Fragen der Gestalt des Buches und der Typographie.
    link. Just spotted in google books.

  18. Then the author recommends to do the same to it what you do with cigarette packs.

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