For too short a time – a little less than one full semester – I worked at the most beautiful library in Maine. Actually, it’s the largest research library in the state, and is always a place I return to when I visit my alma mater. I worked in the reference section; some may know it as the room with all the computers on the first floor. At the start of every shift, I got to see what people had been researching in the hours between my last and current shifts, and then return the materials to their corresponding shelves, tables, or find someone to correctly put back a map.

Also on my to-do list was to take a trip to Acquisitions, and this was my favorite task. I would employ a rattly metal cart and ride an elevator up to the mystical land of Acquisitions; past shelves of materials being preserved (some looked like they were being put back together) and through a door to the quiet cubicled area of materials’ origins. There, I collected the book jackets of newly acquired novels, biographies, reference materials, and foreign language texts. Sometimes I needed three or four boxes, sometimes they wouldn’t fill half a box. But I would bring them back down to the reference desk where they were to be transformed for their next purpose.

My first time doing this, I was unaware of the heinous act I would afterwards be inclined to carry out. Since the hardcover books on the shelves of this historic haven are displayed in all of their hardcover glory, the book jackets are put on display in glass cabinets, as a “see what’s new” or a historical anniversary promotional tool for those interested patrons. To get the little coats on their stands, the face has to be removed from the spine and the back with scissors. I stared in horror as my supervisor – the sweetest woman in the world – showed me exactly how to execute the dismemberment, trying to comfort me with “I know it seems horrible, but you’ll come to terms with it.” I felt the first slow slice in my heart, but with each cut thereafter, felt less and less remorse by forming the following logic.

I’m actually preserving the artwork, imagery, obvious title and author reference, and pristine (kind of) state of these jackets, because if they were left on, they would most likely get stolen, ripped, or hurt beyond belief. And honestly, this just prevents any biased judgments that stem from a first glance at the cover, possibly preventing a book from being read. Yes, this is the worse injustice.

So while I have gotten in the habit of removing the book jackets from my own hardcover tomes as I’m reading, I do place them back on. Perhaps if there’s ever a day I settle in one place with a majestic library, I’ll permanently remove them to maintain a look of character and primitivity, although I’ll just keep the jackets in a box or in a display case – fully intact.

 

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