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Bookbinder  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotBookbinders work in many areas. They work on a large scale in areas like factories, and on a smaller scale as library conservators. Most work in the private business sector.

Hand-bookbinding is a highly specialized skill used to restore rare books and produce valuable collector's items. To learn this skill, apprentices and students must have artistic ability and imagination.

dotSkills for work in a large bindery are learned on the job by first doing simple tasks, such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding machines. More basic tasks include learning the characteristics of different papers and cutting large sheets with minimum waste.

dotA branch of bookbinding known as design binding provides an outlet for the artistry hand-binders learn.

dotShelagh Smith is the managing director of a bookbinders guild. She says design binding is when the cover of a book is specifically designed to enhance the text by elaborating on the text's meaning.

"It's supposed to be a cohesive work of art," she says. "The text, the illustrations and the binding are supposed to form a work of art in and of themselves."

dotTo produce that kind of artistic vision, a bookbinder requires exceptional eye-hand coordination, good three-dimensional perception and an innate understanding of the potential of material, says Smith.

When those three things come together, the bookbinder's work is like a sculpture.

dot"Physically, a book is demanding," says Massachusetts binder Daniel Kelm, "because it is a movable sculpture and it needs to function and move well. Smoothly. Unless the book is about stubbornness, I would make the book do very smooth, easy movements."

dotThe unsteady nature of the bookbinding trade often means that a bookbinder has to take on other jobs to afford a living.

Often jobs that work well as supplemental income are teaching, restoring or working as an arts administrator, Smith says.

dotBetsy Eldridge is an instructor and practicing bookbinder. She says that the financial uncertainty of the work means that most people in the field are semi-professional.

"I hesitate to call it a hobby because it isn't a very successful hobby: it requires too much commitment," she says. "It's very time-consuming and very laborious.

"People who have a very superficial interest in becoming a bookbinder usually don't stick with it very much because there's simply more to it than they ever imagined."

dotKelm says that some aspects of the work may suit the disabled. He says that in some production binderies, there are operations that are done well without a great deal of mobility in the lower half of the body. But still, good mobility and good eye-hand coordination in the upper half of the body are required.

"I work at benches that are 36 inches tall," he says. "I prefer standing when I work."

At a Glance

Make pages into books

  • There's not a lot of steady work in this field
  • You need good eyesight, dexterity and patience
  • Specialized training is available, but you can also learn on the job