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Session 4: Caring for Paper Collections


library binding

1 Standards/Guidelines | 2 Binding Options | 3 Managing Library Binding

Although it is primarily a strategy for general collections, library binding can be used for deteriorated historical volumes that have informational rather than artifactual value. Damaged books that have artifactual value, however, should not be library bound, but should instead be treated by a professional conservator.

The long-term preservation and usability of re-bound volumes has increasingly become a primary concern in library binding. While older library binding techniques were strong and economical, they sometimes resulted in books that did not open well and could be damaged by handling and photocopying. Also, the bindings were too strong for the text blocks they were meant to protect. Today's library binders have addressed these issues and provide bindings that are more durable and longer lasting.

1 Standards/Guidelines

The binding industry has adopted formal standards for library binding. At present, ANSI/NISO/LBI Z39.78-2000 Library Binding (PDF) is the library-binding standard of record.

The goals of modern library binding are:

  • to produce a durable and economical binding;
  • to alter the text block as little as possible;
  • to ensure that the binding itself is as nondamaging as possible; and
  • to produce a re-bound volume that will open easily to 180 degrees and stay open as the researcher is working.

Because the Library Binding standard is geared primarily toward professional library binders, it became clear that staff of collections-holding institutions would benefit from additional explanation and discussion of the standard so they could make informed binding decisions. In response, the Library Binding Institute (LBI) sponsored a Guide to the Library Binding Institute Standard for Library Binding, updated in 2008. Further information on library binding is available at the Library Binding Council website.

2 Binding Options

The many options available for library binding of collection items can be confusing to those with little experience in the field. Always remember that if a volume has artifactual value, it should never be library bound; it must be treated by a conservator instead. Any volumes to be library bound must have paper that is not too brittle and is strong enough to withstand the binding process. When making binding decisions, keep the following general guidelines in mind.

Preserve the original signatures and sewing by choosing from the following options:

  • Recasing—If the original sewing is intact, the volume should receive a new case (e.g., new boards and covering that are attached to the text block by gluing them to the endsheets).

  • Resewing and recasing—If the sewing is deteriorated, the book should be resewn through the original sewing holes (by hand or machine) if possible, even though this can be an expensive option. The volume should then be recased.

  • Double-fan adhesive binding—Volumes that cannot be recased should usually be double-fan adhesive bound. In this type of binding, the spine is milled, and a machine applies adhesive to the leaves as they are fanned back and forth.

  • Oversewing—This technique (machine sewing of single leaves at an angle through prepunched holes) could be needed for very heavy and thick text blocks, but oversewn volumes often do not open well, and the sewing can easily tear the pages if they become brittle in the future. This option should be avoided if at all possible.

When rebinding materials from your collections, there are some additional issues to consider:

  • No-trim policy—Specify that the binder should not trim the edges of the text block unless the page edges are damaged or the pages are uncut. Otherwise, any images or text that extends to the edges of the pages will be lost.

  • Paper repairs—If paper repairs are needed, a paper-based pressure-sensitive tape with acrylic adhesive should be used (document repair tape is available from conservation suppliers). It is important, however, to remember that these repair tapes are only reversible with the use of organic solvents. A conservator would be needed if a volume is later reclassified into special collections. If the book has value as an artifact and would merit page repairs done with Japanese paper, it should not be library bound.

3 Managing Library Binding

Binders should be members of the Library Binding Council, which is the primary membership organization for library binders. To become a certified member of LBI, binders must undergo a certification process in which their work is inspected to ensure that it meets the Library Binding standard. The binder must pledge to adhere to the standard when undertaking work to which the standard applies.

Your institution should have a contract, or at least an informal agreement, with its library binder that specifies the institution's preferences for leaf attachment and the other binding issues noted in the Binding Options section of this session. Each bound volume returned by the library binder should be inspected to insure that the quality of the work is acceptable and specifications have been met. This is of critical importance in maintaining a high quality product.