There have been various discussions among research libraries recently about the management of the collective print collection as pressures on library space coincide with shifting research and learning behaviors in a network environment.
This will create interesting questions about preserving the print scholarly record over the next few years: what combination of agencies should be responsible for assuring - and paying for - as complete a print record as seems desirable? Previously, continuity of access was a benign side-effect of the redundant local storage involved in the print distribution model. As libraries look at retiring or consolidating parts of their collection, this redundancy cannot be counted on and calls for some collective management attention. This is likely to happen at a national level in some countries.
I was reminded of this issue in a small but symptomatic way by a very nice story on the Penguin blog. Penguin decided to adorn a reissue of Raymond Chandler's novels with facsimiles of the original cover art. However, it proved very difficult to track down the pictures in question.
The Bodleian got back to my email and told me that they'd unearthed copies of The Little Sister, Farewell, My Lovely and The Big Sleep but that none of them had jackets with them; they'd presumably been lost over the years or thrown away when they became too damaged. However, there was a dust jacket collection somewhere in the library called the John Johnson collection; perhaps the jackets would be in there. Sure enough, I contacted a lady there to find out that the collection held the jacket for the 1949 first edition of The Little Sister and as long as we sorted out all the boring bits, we should be able to procure a scan. Bingo. One down, three to go. [The Penguin Blog: In search of Chandler]
Since we'd got lucky with the Bodleian, the next logical step was to phone and email lots of other libraries all over the country, concentrating particularly on copyright libraries, which should hold copies of every book ever published. So we phoned around, and emailed, and phoned, and emailed and phoned. Mostly we got the expected response, that although copies of the books existed, the jackets were far more elusive. But Cambridge University Library happened to still have an intact 1953 first edition of The Long Good-bye - complete with its dust jacket. I thanked my stars. Two down. [The Penguin Blog: In search of Chandler]
There is also some discussion of tracking down copies via used book sources.
Now, libraries have as much difficulty as most folks in divining future needs, and discarding covers or not holding onto thrillers is defensible in local contexts.
But one would expect to be able to locate such things in the 'system' as a whole, within, say, the library apparatus in the UK? And if such things are available, will you be able to find them?