Book covers

I was looking to find a book to read on an upcoming trip, so I was looking at book reviews on The Square Root of 2: A Dialogue Concerning a Number and a Sequence by David Flannery. So I found a book review by Doug Ensley, a math professor, and John Ensley, his teenage son. What was interesting about this was the review discusses the cover and how they “thought it had a cool cover.” Looking at the cover image, I can understand why. The premise of this part of the review is that the cover drew the readers in to want to read the book. From the review (which is written in dialogue form to match the book:

What did you think of David Flannery’s book on the square root of two?

At first I thought, “Can there really be 250 pages of stuff to say about the square root of two?” I also thought it had a cool cover.

So you judged a book by its cover?

Yeah, I guess I did at first. I also wanted to find out how anyone could possibly write an entire book about the square root of two.

Anyway, I went to go get the book off the shelf in “unnamed library” and it didn’t have the same cover. It just had a plain cover with nothing on it (except the title on the spine). This is typical of how many libraries display their books, but it is unfortunate. By loosing the dusk jacket, I didn’t get to see the cool cover that might have intrigued me more than the book “e: The Story of a Number” that was nearby on the shelf. I also lost the information about the author, an abstract about the book, quotes from reviewers, and whatever information might have been on the dusk jacket. This is not just the way unnamed library works, but many other libraries as well. It is a shame that this information is lost. I’m sure there is a processing argument that can be made for the money and time saved by removing the jacket versus doing something to make sure it stays permanently with the book. However, that doesn’t make it any more disappointing.

This disappointment makes me wish for book covers in our library OPAC even more. The rich information that one can get from online book store or LibraryThing (as well as the dusk jacket you can read in the brick and mortar bookstore can really influence what book you wish to read.


  1. Brigid said,

    October 4, 2007 at 07:10:30

    I think as a general rule, public libraries tend to keep the book jackets, while academic libraries tend to discard them. I don’t know all of the reasons behind this, but I suspect it is because academic libraries haven’t felt a need to “sell” their materials, as they are research facilities. There is a much greater emphasis on marketing in the public libraries.

    I agree with you that the book jacket makes the item more desirable. It often provides a quick, up-front summary of the item, and an interesting cover can make it more intriguing. For certain items–the book jacket also makes the item more valuable. At one library I worked at (public), there were a rash of book jacket thefts–about 40 or 50 jackets disappeared from items that appeared to be first editions. It was undoubtedly a book collector, who probably had un-jacketed first editions, and wanted to increase their value. For example–Sue Grafton’s first novel, first edition is (or was) worth about $80 without the book jacket, and about $700 with the book jacket. The library responded by stamping the inside of the jackets with property stamps to remove the value.

    Back to the original topic-at FDU, we now retain book jackets, and I think it has had an effect on circulation. It does put processing costs up a bit, as the jackets need to be protected with mylar covers, but it’s not a huge cost. Most users prefer to browse collections, rather than go to the OPAC to look for a specific thing, and keeping the jackets supports browsing behavior. If I have to look through a row of items with similar black or blue un-jacketed covers, I’m probably not going to look very far.

  2. Edward Corrado said,

    October 8, 2007 at 21:10:55

    I think you are correct that public libraries tend to keep covers more. I’m not sure why, but your marketing theory makes a good bit of sense to me.