Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Value Added: Book Covers Provide Additional Impetus for Academic Library Patrons to Check out Books

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Value Added: Book Covers Provide Additional Impetus for Academic Library Patrons to Check out Books

Article excerpt

Sages ranging from George Eliot to Bo Diddley have advised against judging books by their covers. (1) Although the proverb is indubitably correct as prescriptive advice, the question remains whether readers do judge books by their covers. Publishers must believe they do, as those firms go to great lengths to provide attractive book covers, with the intention of making "maximal impact on the minds of purchasers." (2) In our study, we discovered that academic library patrons check out books with information-bearing covers more than those with plain covers. Just as the covers add value for publishers by attracting readers in bookstores, so do they add value in libraries by engaging readers in ways that catalog entries do not.

Libraries and purveyors of books have each developed unique methods for informing potential readers of the existence, contents, genres, styles, and approaches of books. For libraries, the primary means of informing patrons about books are the metadata contained in catalog records. For publishers and booksellers, the external packaging of books is an important method to alert readers to titles that may be of interest. A book jacket can also signal the currency of a book, both through its physical condition and the style of its design, which can reflect the era of its publication.

Library patrons who rely on catalog records are provided information that is primarily focused on the three categories of information that Charles A. Cutter declared a catalog should contain: authors, titles, and subjects. (3)

Patrons who rely on Dewey Decimal Classification, Library of Congress Classification (LCC), or other schemes to guide them to a particular topic know only that a book classed at a particular location has some content that caused a librarian to place it in a "convenient sequence of the various groups" of books in the collection. (4) Although newer additions to the catalogers toolkit, including genre and form headings, provide "enhanced resource discovery," library catalogs are limited in the amount of information about a book they convey to a patron. (5)

In many academic libraries dust jackets are discarded, leaving a browsing patron to determine the value of the book from the spine and front matter alone. If publishers and bookstores believe there is value to customers in the information conveyed by dust jackets, might academic libraries also find value for their patrons in the same information?

Evolution of the Book Cover

For several centuries after the invention of printing, the purchase of a book did not necessarily include its binding. Printers often distributed loose sheets, which the buyer could have bound in leather or vellum in the style of his or her choosing. (6) In the 1820s, William Pickering introduced cloth bindings, and in 1832, John Murray developed a method to apply gold-leaf lettering and decorations to a book cover. (7) These advances allowed publishers to create covers of increasingly artistic design that were intended to appeal to the aesthetic senses of customers, as well as "reflect the contents of the book." (8) By the 1880s, such book covers could include full-color designs.

The introduction of cloth bindings, with their attendant problems of wear, led publishers to start covering them with paper jackets for storage. The earliest extant dust jacket dates from 1832. (9) However, dust jackets were not commonly issued until after 1890, and illustrated dust jackets only became popular in the decade before the First World War. (10) Early dust jackets were plain affairs, often showing only the title and perhaps the author's name. The first use of dust jackets for advertising purposes listed other titles from the same publisher. (11)

The flourishing of book jackets in the 1890s led to increasingly creative use of the available space. That decade saw the first printing on the flaps, plus the advent of the blurb, which is "a favorable comment about the book or its author, usually of greater extent than a simple descriptive phrase. …

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