Do I Really Need Protective Book Covers For My Books?

A great collection of old or vintage books is a beautiful sight to behold, and there’s no denying that I’m a fan. My own time collecting antique books whether buying and selling as a book hound or simply to add to my own collection. I’m not stranger to protective book covers of all types including the common plastic sheets that are so popular (but keep that tape away from the bottom and top cover!).

This brings up a common question: do you really need protective book covers for your books?

Protective book covers are mostly there for preserving valuable antique or rare books, and in cases of modern first editions, their dust jackets. The average hardcover has no serious need for a protective book cover.

Because of the potential for damage, degradation or simple damage over time it’s crucial that valuable books and antique books are properly protective whether that means a book cover or proper leather treatment for the truly old rare books with leather bindings.

For regular hardcovers that are just for reading, there’s no serious reason why you need to have protective covers.

Then Why Do Library Books Have Protective Covers?

Because of the sheer wear and tear that can happen from so many people handling books, having plastic protective covers are just a good idea because they both repel liquids and help prevent rips, tears, and wear from general usage.

In that particular case libraries aren’t doing it to preserve value but to preserve a book that will hopefully be checked out dozens if not hundreds of times. The longer the book is in reasonable readable condition, the longer the library can go without ordering a replacement, which eats into the always limited budget.

Related Article: What do libraries do with old books?

And for those of you new book hounds hoping to find a gem from a library sale, hate to break it to you but it’s not likely to happen unless they have a lot of donations they never had on the shelves. Why?

Because most libraries do multiple things that pretty much vacate the value of a book to collectors. As in a full 95% of value lost from a first edition/first printing and that’s assuming you can even find an interested buyer at the 5% mark, which depending on how common a 1/1 is, isn’t a sure thing.

The first is stamping the library’s name on the pages. This can often be seen when inspecting the binding because it’s more often on the bottom or top versus an inside page. Look at the picture below for a perfect example of this type of library stamp.

Library Stamp on Book
These marks kill the value even if the rest of the book was somehow in near pristine condition. (Source)

This is before dealing with the traditional library card holders or stamps that are found inside a book’s front board or the front inside page. In other words, that did actual damage and permanently marked the book as having previously been a library book. Even for libraries that were early in going digital to minimize markings or damage to the books themselves, any book that is a library book must always be marked that way.

So since value can’t play a part in why libraries need a protective book covers? Simple: protecting books that would be out and about dozens if not hundreds of times. Also, way down the road if the book was going to be sold via sale, the nicer it looks, the better price or donation it’s likely to get.

When Should I Actually Use Protective Covers for My Books?

There are primarily two reasons to use protective covers from privately owned books:

  • Protect a valuable or antique book’s value
  • Protect the condition of your favorite hardcover books

The first makes sense when you have collectible first edition books where the dust jacket is the majority of the value of that antique book. This helps preserve the value and the often very fragile and easy to damage dust jackets, not to mention helps keep dust and environmental factors away from damaging the books themselves.

The other reason is to simply extend the life of any hardcover books and dust jackets you own and enjoy. Is it necessary?

For the overwhelming number of book owners it really isn’t. However if are a major bibliophile and are abhorred at the idea of any nicks on the dust jacket, or food stains on the pages, then maybe you are one of the short group who should spend money on at least basic protective covers to sleeve your books and protect them from most types of average wear and damage.

Otherwise for most people, this is a non-issue as hardcovers are designed to hold up relatively well, as do modern dust jackets if they are properly cared for and taken care of.

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