Bookbinders 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.
Skills 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.
A branch of bookbinding known as design binding provides an outlet for
the artistry hand-binders learn.
Shelagh 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
To 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
"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."
The 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.
Betsy Eldridge is an instructor and practicing bookbinder. She says that
the financial uncertainty of the work means that most people in the field
"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
"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
Kelm 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
"I work at benches that are 36 inches tall," he says. "I prefer standing
when I work."