I use protective outer sleeves on all records in my personal collection. They’re relatively inexpensive at about five cents per sleeve and well worth the investment. Most vinyl collectors will tell you they are used to protect dust, and I’m sure they do help in that regard.
But I’m more concerned with the immediate ways they protect my vinyl.
For example, a beverage one time happened to drop on the floor next to a good part of my collection. Time moved agonizingly slow as I watched in horror, seething at my klutzy (and probably drunk) brother, as the can descended to the floor… it landed with a thud that reverberated like the deepest bass note ever played in that room… I saw the can compress on impact just before… BOOM… fuckin’ Budweiser sprayed as if from a geyser. Droplets of beer showered my shelves and records.
But no serious damage was done. The covers were all protected by the outer sleeves. My brother received only a minor chastising for his actions… and then I got him another beer.
If not for the outer sleeves there’s little doubt the damage would have been severe to at least the fifty or so records immediately in the splash zone. Others on the periphery would have suffered some level of damage. And there’s a high likelihood my brother and I wouldn’t be talking. So in a way, the outer sleeves protected not only my precious records, but also my relationship with my brother.
The outer sleeves also protect die-cut, gatefold, and funky abnormal album covers. I’ve seen many torn covers that resulted from a record being pushed against a raised section of the cover (think the zipper on Sticky Fingers) as it’s being slid back on the shelf.
It’s frustrating to consciously care for your collection, only to have that flimsy fold-out cover on Alice Cooper’s School’s Out rip because a record snagged it as it was sliding next to it. Using an outer sleeve on a record with a specialized cover prevents damage to the delicate sections.
These outer sleeves also reduce friction, making it easier to slide any record on or off a shelf. It sounds stupid, but I’ve found it a great convenience to not have to worry when I put a record back. The cover won’t tear or cause a tear. And it will slide easily.
Little things in life bring an old man joy.
Finally, using outer sleeves makes it easier to track inserts. I’ll often times leave the little inserts (download cards, pictures, other weird things) outside the cover, either in the attached shrink wrap or in the outer protective sleeve. I do this because sometimes sliding a record into a cover full of these inserts is frustrating.
I’ve used all sorts of outer protective sleeves. The ones from Vinyl Styl are what I’ve been using most recently. They’re inexpensive, acid-free, PVC free, all that babble-stuff, comfortably fit single records, and snugly fit thick gatefold covers (like the Jason Isbell records above)… and they do a fine job of preventing beer from damaging the cover.