A day in the life of the bindery

Describing the various activities that the binding section of preservation are call on to undertake

When asked, I usually tell people I come to work to do craft every day. It's true; I wear a glue smeared apron, cut paper with scalpel knives and play with glue. The week really starts on a Wednesday; that's the day of the  trolley run around the various collection points in the library. Nellie, our new binder has inherited this weekly stroll around the library from me.  During the week,  staff from Stacks, Acquisitions, Document Supply and Asian Collections might come across a book in need of repair. They leave it for us with a duly filled out "Yellow form". This yellow form is our item tracker: we need to be able to locate an item, and if it has gone to Preservation, we use it to track what repairs it has undergone. Apart from a  few de rigueur weekly meetings, my days are filled with routine problems to solve from the trolley. Most of the items that pass through the doors of Preservation require one of three treatments:

  1. adhesive removal (who put that sticky tape there?)
  2. pamphlet stitching (those rusty staples have really got to go!)
  3. spine repairs (hey, this spine has just fallen off, let me reglue it back on.)

Although each case is similar to the next, no two resews or spine repairs are the same. It is in the little differences that variety comes. Will the book fall apart in a terrible, unpredictable way once I've disbound it? I won't always know until I get there. We don't just stab sew or pamphlet stitch all day; the variety on the trolley run is quite extensive. Let me give you a glimpse of what Nellie and I might be doing on any given day:

  • Fixing dog eared corners
Corners of covers, dogeared from years of use, are flattened into shape

Corners of covers, dogeared from years of use, are flattened into shape

  • Remove stapless/ pamphlet sew section with/without mylar cover
  • Paper repairs for small or large tears using japanese tissue or heat set tissue
  • Disbinding journals that need rearranging or additions
  • Brushing dirt out of book gutters
You would be amazed how much dirt accumulates in a book

You would be amazed how much dirt accumulates in a book

Rebacks, or re-attaching a new spine to a cover, require me to lift the original material off the book boards

Rebacks, or re-attaching a new spine to a cover, require me to lift the original material off the book boards

  • Rehousing material in various sorts of boxes or ziplock bags
Phase box for puzzle and map

Phase box for puzzle and map

To be frank, this can feel a bit humdrum at times. And when that feeling sets in we go looking for that special item, dropped off by our friends in Acquisitions, that requires the extra mile: a slip case, a clam shell box, a bit more finesse and imagination.

Rounded Slip case with leather edges

Rounded Slip case with leather edges

So it's not all work and no fun. We also have a little time for professional development. We need to keep learning new skills and honing our current ones so that we can work more effectively, and be ready to tackle juicy problems when they arise.  Nellie and I have trial runs on the blocking press; at the moment we are making new work books using techniques with which we are not familiar.

Nellie working on her book

Nellie working on her book

Fabienne,  our volunteer who trained in Belgium, shows us some tricks for slipcases and Bradel binding. We fit these times in as best we can. At the end of the day we can look back on the concrete things  we have produced with some degree of satisfaction.