Decorators: Please Don’t Touch the Dust Jackets

This brief essay—which really should go in Architectural Digest, Dwell, Interior Design, Elle D├ęcor, or House Beautiful—is about designing with books but also says something about communication and how our decorating says something about who we are.

Recently, we had our loft decorated by a professional decorator who was excellent, except for one thing: He wanted to remove the dust jackets (book jackets, dust covers) from my rather extensive library. I resisted. But I figured that this may be a standard decorating principle and so I journeyed to the large department stores and where books were displayed, there were no dust jackets in sight. Apparently, it is a decorating principle, but one that needs to be revisited and removed from the decorator’s handbook.
Dust jackets are integral to the book; they are a part of the book, not like a candy wrapper that is removed and thrown away. Dust jackets are a preview of the theme or the mood of the book and serve much the same purpose as the introduction or preface, but ideally in an extremely brief but visually arresting way. They tell the potential reader something important about the book, with their words obviously, but also with their fonts, colors, and visuals.
Dust jackets serve an attention-gaining function, much like the introduction to a speech or article. They draw attention to the book; they invite you to look more extensively at the book, to spend some time with it. And, again, much like the introduction to a speech or article, they provide the potential reader with a preview, explaining or hinting at the content of the book, at what is to follow.
Dust jackets individualize books. Whereas books without dust jackets look very much the same, dust jackets make each book visually distinct. And, of course, each book is distinct and different from every other book. Books without jackets lose a good part of this distinctiveness, a distinctiveness that adds variety--color and dimension—to a shelf that would otherwise be totally bland—especially when the books number in the hundreds.
Dust jackets are given considerable attention by publishers and are often works of art. And although the dust jacket is nothing more than a type of poster, it still is a work of art that can be enjoyed in and of itself. Furthermore, if the book is a first edition or otherwise rare, it will be worth far less without its original dust jacket. So, by destroying the dust jacket, you destroy a good part of the value of the book, perhaps its total value. And you don’t want a client to discover that a once-valuable book is now worthless.
Consider too the different messages that a bookcase of dust-jacketed books and jacket-less books communicate about your clients, who they are and what their priorities are. A good argument could be made that the impression the dust jackets create is of a lover of books, a reader, someone with a mind. The jacket-less books more likely communicate clients more concerned with appearance than substance.
From a purely practical point of view, they help the user find the book, especially when the library is extensive. And once this now easy-to-find book is found, the jacket serves as a reminder of the mode or theme of the book.
So, decorators, think about the important functions that dust jackets serve and consider the values of leaving them exactly where the publisher, designer, and author put them.