They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, and I try to keep that in mind. In fact, one of my favorite books growing up was an Arthurian fantasy novel with a cover so appalling to myself as a teenager that I pulled it out every time I took it out of the library and then took it out. carefully replaced on my return. The book was amazing; the coverage not so much. However, book covers, whether I like the sleeve or not, often help me discover books in libraries.
It’s not that I wonder which book cover I prefer to make a decision; although I like book covers enough to draw them in my spare time. It’s just that seeing book covers facing outward in a library draws me to those books like a moth to ignite. I don’t always have time to squint at titles in the middle of a sea of spine books and think if they look appealing. Of course, being surrounded by so many books is a magical feeling, but sometimes standing between those towering shelves crowded with thousands of books can also feel overwhelming.
How do I know by looking at these book spines if I will like the book unless I start to pull them all off the shelf and take a closer look? So where do you start with so many books to choose from? Seeing book covers in racks or scattered around the shelves helps me make decisions faster. Often times when I visit the library, I also take a toddler in their stroller. Every minute I spend sailing is a minute closer to the looming end of a 2 year collapse. The faster I can choose something, the better.
When I go to the library I bring with me a librarian’s point of view because I have my MLIS and I work as a library secretary in a high school. I have fun browsing other libraries, but I also learn from my visits. I walk in with the lens of a boss, observing things that are working or not working for me. Then I take that into consideration when I get back to my library. I want to give my clients the experience I want as a client, whether it’s being welcoming, offering book suggestions, or being excited about the authors we both love. I also create the displays for our library, so I like to take inspiration from the different displays made by other libraries.
As a library patron, I have been known to hang huge stacks of books that I find in display racks, or those with the covers facing outward on the shelves. Sometimes I worry if it bothers the librarians who do these postings. I doubt I picked up too many books that they put on. However, I try to remember how I feel when people remove books from the displays I make in my library. I am delighted when people consult books on my displays. That’s why I do them. The more checks, even if it’s just one person, the better because it encourages reading. And encouraging reading, even by one person, matters.
So why put outward facing book covers in libraries?
The beauty of navigation
The main reason I go to libraries is to immerse myself in the joy of browsing. Of course, I can always discover new good books through online research. My TBR Goodreads list is huge because of this. At the library, however, I don’t have to stare at the endless scrolling of my computer screen, reading book reviews until my eyes go blurry. As I dreamily browse the shelves, I hope to stumble upon this elusive perfect book, displayed right in front of my eyes, almost as if I had wished it to come true.
There is nothing like finding a book that surprises me as exactly what I needed without knowing that I needed it. Plus, my mood often affects what I choose to read. Of course, I might at some point want to read the 1000+ books on my TBR. Do I want to read them right away? Not always. Like another Rioter, I maintain an ambitious playlist rather than a must-read playlist. I like to keep an open mind to be surprised by the books I come across.
As I browse, I enjoy the experience much more when I can see book covers interspersed with rows of book spines along the shelves. I am becoming curious as to what prompted someone in the library to choose to give this book the honor of an outward facing cover. In my own library, I don’t take random books from the shelves to display them, but rather try to make thoughtful choices. I see it as an opportunity to increase the reader’s advice. The more books with outward facing covers in libraries, the more enjoyable the browsing experience for me.
Research supports it
Not only do I find the book covers useful when searching for books, the research backs it up as well. In the libraries of the University of Memphis, Knowlton and Hackert (2015) conducted a study to compare the circulation rates of books with covers designed by publishers to books with plain covers. They said: “Our survey of 1,719 recently published books in a university library showed that books with publisher-supplied information on the covers outperform regular books in several measures of circulation. These findings corroborate those of previous researchers in school and public libraries, and support the observation that customers still rely on browsing to find the books they want to read.
While library catalogs can also serve as a useful tool for customers to find books, Knowlton and Hackert (2015) have emphasized the importance of catalog search navigation. They explained, “Just as covers add value for publishers by attracting readers to bookstores, they add value to libraries by engaging readers in ways catalog entries don’t.
My Ideal Library: Making the Most of the Space for Book Covers
In my ideal library experience, book covers would be arranged in attractive, timely, and inclusive displays, as well as in the space at the end of each shelf. When it comes to spacing, it makes sense that the majority of books should be shelved with only their spines visible along the shelves. Otherwise, we ran out of space quite quickly. However, every traditional bookshelf has the option of displaying books with covers facing outward where additional space is left next to the bookend for shelving purposes. I would love to see these spaces used with book covers on display. This can help give a little insight into the types of books that can be found on that particular shelf, whether they are books by the same author or genre in fiction, or books related to this topic in the non. -fiction.
Tips on displaying book covers
When selecting books with the covers facing outward on the shelves, I consider the following:
- Mix of genres and subjects
- The books and authors that I have noticed are circulating well
- Books that are still relatively recent additions to the collection
- Under the radar books
- Books representative of marginalized communities, including people of color, gays and people with disabilities
It is crucial to ensure that outward facing book covers are representative and include marginalized voices. In a School Library Journal Teen Librarian Toolbox (2020) guest articleThai American author Pintip Dunn discusses the impact book covers have on her, including the cover of her latest book, Dating makes perfect.
Dunn shares: “The 12-year-old never dreamed that I could one day have a book cover like this, and it would have meant everything to young Pintip to have seen this gorgeous blanket center a gorgeous Thai girl. . Maybe I wouldn’t have felt like a stranger in my skin. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone through my childhood feeling like I didn’t belong – could never belong. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken long after college for me to feel attractive… At least that blanket would have given me hope that life would someday be different, better.
Book covers displayed in libraries can have an incredible impact on customers. Making a thoughtful choice about which book covers to display can help present excellent and inclusive readings within a collection otherwise hidden within the walls of book spines.
Some final thoughts …
I find as much pleasure in selecting books to display in my library as in wandering the aisles of other libraries, soaking up a rainbow of book covers. The cover doesn’t always reflect the contents of a book, but it does help me find books. And isn’t that one of the best aspects of going to the library?
Knowlton, SA & Hackert, LN (2015). Added value: Book covers give an extra boost to university library users to borrow books. Library Resources and Technical Services, vol. 59 (3). Retrieved June 24, 2021, from https://journals.ala.org/index.php/lrts/article/view/5750/7197
Dunn, P. & MacGregor, A. (2020, August 18). Judge a book by its cover – Sometimes a guest article by Pintip Dunn. Teens Librarian Toolkit. https://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/08/judge-a-book-by-its-cover-sometimes-a-guest-post-by-pintip-dunn/