The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 15
Jul 1978


Improving Binder-Librarian Relations

On June 28, one of the most prominent librarians and one of the most prominent binders in this country addressed a large audience at the American Library Association conference in Chicago. Frazer Poole, recently retired Assistant Director for Preservation at the Library of Congress, told the assembled librarians what they should and should not expect of their commercial library binder. Steve Roberts, recently-elected President of the Library Binding Institute, was just as explicit on what the library binder expects of the librarian. Then Werner Rebsamen described current publishers' bindings and presented some of the major findings on quality of book structure from the LBI Book Testing Laboratory in Rochester, New York.

Since the three talks were all excellent and complemented one another nicely, they will be paraphrased where necessary and reported here as if given by one person. Background information: library binderies are a type of mechanized hard cover bindery specializing in periodicals and the rebinding of books, rather than production of new books. The Library Binding Institute is their trade association.

Communication between librarians and binders is more difficult today than it was 35 years ago, partly because of a growing trend for purchasing departments rather than librarians to choose the binder, and to switch binders every year on the basis of price alone, thus never giving the librarian and binder a chance to build up a good working relationship or to get the most value for the money.

If the librarian is dissatisfied with the binder, he should not just switch binders, but sit down with him and talk about what can be done. Every big library should have a set of specifications covering pickup and delivery schedule, payment, insurance and binding, and these specifications should be tailored to the needs of the library. If necessary, the Library of Congress or the larger research libraries can help the inexperienced librarian draw them up and make sure they are practical. (Binders sometimes get a good laugh from specifications obviously drawn up by someone who was copying blindly from obsolete or inappropriate sources; but they may lose the bid all the same if they do not promise to meet the impossible and contradictory specifications that result.)

The binder and librarian should sit down together at least once a year to discuss the binding budget, the general requirements of the library, and new materials and techniques Details of the specifications can be worked out at these meetings: type of cover (plain or decorated, etc.), call number, colored foil, whether binding slips are to be filled out by the librarian or the bindery, what to do about missing pages or issues, collation of periodicals, choice of color, panel lines, library imprints, whether to say "Vols.", "Vol.", "V." or nothing before the number, and other nomenclature policies, notification whether a title is new to eliminate a search for a nonexistent rub from the rub file, volume count for each job, location of the ownership stamp where it won't get trimmed off in binding, identification of rare and unusual materials and of materials which require special attention and therefore can be kept longer at the bindery. These things take time to reach an understanding on and cannot be handled by a purchasing department

The librarian may have to ask the binder for a visit if the binder does not drop around of his own accord. If the librarian never sees anybody but the truck driver, it is time for a change. It goes both ways, though: binders like to show librarians around their plant, and welcome an opportunity to show them the machines and operations they use.

The pickup and delivery schedule is important to both parties. The librarian likes to have the books back quickly (4 weeks is average), and on time. If a shipment cannot be returned on time, and the bindery does not first notify the library, something is wrong with the bindery and an investigation should be made. The binder likes to have the work in equal monthly installments over the academic year, leaving the summer for textbook binding, which can only be done in the Summer, and which must all be finished in time for the schools to open in the fall. Libraries that send a year's worth of binding out all at once are interfering with service and raising costs. But if there is a special binding project to do, something different from the usual run of work, the librarian should negotiate a good time to send it when perhaps a special price can be offered. November, December and January are the slowest months.

A capital sin for a librarian is to forget the binder is coming and fail to have the books ready to go. Almost as bad is not to have them in boxes. The drivers are scheduled to make 15 to 25 stops a day, and it doubles their time at each stop if they have to take the books off the shelves.

The binder should be informed and tell the librarian about new materials and techniques, but not experiment with them on the customer's books without prior consultation. The LBI Book Testing Lab is for that.

Small libraries not able to send out monthly shipments to the bindery should not expect the same level of service given the larger libraries, because they are not profitable. Larger libraries, though, can choose among several types or styles of binding from the same binder; this was not the case 10 or 15 years ago.

The librarian should carefully prepare the binding instructions for each item, especially for nonroutine items, and then the binder should follow them. If the instructions are incorrect or unclear, the binder should not blindly follow them but should recommend alternatives rather than ruin an item.

A certain amount of preparation has to be done by the librarian. Magazines should be tied, and complete volumes sent to avoid the waste of picking up and shipping back unbound and incomplete volumes. A list is not necessary but an accurate volume count is. The binding slip for books and magazines should be on the outside or on the title page so it can be easily found. Duplicate titles should be packed in the same box if at all possible. Everything should be in boxes (usually furnished by the bindery) with the library's name on the outside.

Workmanship: If typed instruction slips are used, a 2% error rate is par for the course. This means that it is reasonable to expect one book in 50 to have a mistake in stamping, order of pages, etc. But the librarian should expect first class workmanship in both the visible and the hidden parts of the binding. If there are visible mistakes, there are probably hidden ones too. If the binder won't discuss the problem, the librarian should go to the trade association, which enforces standards,

Cleat sewing is only 40% as strong as oversewing at best; rounded and backed books last twice as long as flat-back books in circulation and in the tumble test, which is one of the measures of sturdiness obtained with special apparatus at the LBI Book Testing Lab. Joints must not only be creased, but must have good adhesion. The cover material, the lining flap and endpaper must all be stuck well at the joints, or the book won't last.

Some of these matters of workmanship will be made more explicit in the forthcoming revision of the 1975 LBI Standards, which will include performance standards for the first time, as well as materials and structural standards for library-bound books

Librarians are encouraged to do their homework: learn book nomenclature, the different ways of affixing pages (sewing, adhesive binding, etc.), alternative ways of dealing with narrow inner margins, what to expect of Tyvek, etc. LBI members will help by putting on classes and workshops; inquire about this

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