A Library Primer (1899)/Chapter XXVII

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A Library Primer by John Cotton Dana
Chapter XXVII, Binding and mending

Binding a book means not only covering it, but preserving it. Good binding, even at a high price, educates the public taste and promotes a desire to protect the library from injury and loss. Cheap binding degrades books and costs more in the end than good work.

Keep in a bindery-book, which may be any simple blank book, or one especially made for the purpose (see Library Bureau catalog), a record of each volume that the library binds or rebinds.

Enter in the bindery-book consecutive bindery number, book-number, author, title, binding to be used, date sent to bindery, date returned from bindery, and cost of binding.

Books subject to much wear should be sewn on tapes, not on strings; should have cloth joints, tight backs, and a tough, flexible leather, or a good, smooth cloth of cotton or linen such as is now much used by good binders. Most of the expensive leather, and all cheap leather, rots in a short time; good cloth does not. Very few libraries can afford luxurious binding. Good material, strong sewing, and a moderate degree of skill and taste in finishing are all they can pay for. Learn to tell a substantial piece of work when you see it, and insist that you get such from your binder. The beginners' first business is to inform himself carefully as to character, value, cost and strength of all common binding materials.

From binders, or from dealers in binding material, you can get samples of cloth, leather, tapes, string, thread, etc., which will help you to learn what to ask for from your local binder.

The following notes are from a lecture by John H.H. McNamee before the Massachussets library club in 1896, on the Essentials of good binding:

"Had I the ordering of bindings for any public or circulating library where books are given out to all classes of people, and subjected to the handling which such books must receive, I should, from my experience as a binder, recommend the following rules:

For the smaller volumes of juveniles, novels, and perishable books (by which I mean books which are popular for a short time, and then may lie on the shelves almost as so much lumber), have each book pulled to pieces and sewed with Hayes' linen thread on narrow linen tapes, with edges carefully trimmed.

Have the books rounded and backed, but not laced in. Have the boards placed away from the backs about one-fourth of an inch, in order to give plenty of room for them to swing easily and avoid their pulling off the first and last signatures of the book when opened. Give the back and joint a lining of super or cheese cloth. Have them covered with American duck or canvas pasted directly to the leaves, pressed well and given plenty of time to dry under pressure, and so avoid as much as possible all warping of boards and shrinkage of the cloth. For all large folios, newspapers and kindred works, use heavy canvas, as it is somewhat cheaper than sheep, and as easily worked. Have them sewed strongly on the requisite number of bands, every band laced into the boards, which should be made by pasting two heavy binder's boards together, to prevent warping and give solidity to the volume.

The reason I say lace in large volumes is that the heavy books will sag and pull out of covers by their great weight unless tightly fastened to a solid board, thus giving the book a good foundation to stand on.

For all periodicals not bound in leather I should prescribe the same treatment. These volumes can be lettered in ink on the canvas, or in gold on a colored leather label pasted on the cloth. But for all books which are destined to be bound in leather I should surely, and without any hesitation whatever, order morocco, and by this I mean goat skin, and I should go still further and demand a good German or French goat; boards hard and laced in at every band, super joints, full, open backs, lettering clear and distinct, and the paper on the sides to match the leather.

I would also recommend that a schedule be used, giving a space for schedule number; then the name of book or books, or lettering to be used on each volume; space for the number of volumes, space for description of binding, and finally for price, thus giving the binder a complete order on a large sheet, which he is in no danger of losing. All he will have to do is to mark on the title of each volume, in small figures, its schedule number, and, when the books are done, put down the prices and add up the column of figures, and make out his statement as per the number of schedule.

This method gives the librarian a complete list of volumes sent and returned, and by laying away these schedules she has for handy reference a very complete list of prices. It saves the binder from writing out the name of each volume on his bill, and as the librarian must keep a list of books sent, why not keep them this way as well as any other? I have mislaid or lost hundreds of lettering slips, which are the bane of a bookbinder's existence. Lay down some rules for the cutting of books, placing of plates, binding of covers, and advertisements, style of lettering, etc., and have your binder follow them.

Don't ever cut with a folder before sending to binder, as it makes the sewing more difficult.

Don't pull to pieces or take out titles and indexes. The binder always takes care of that.

Don't take off ads, as it sometimes leaves unsightly tears or takes away pages, and if all leaves are paged the binder is at a loss to know if the book is complete.

Don't ever use mucilage or glue. Your bookbinder will send you a little paste, or you can make it by boiling flour and water and sprinkling in a little salt. If you wish to keep it for a long time, mix a few drops of oil of cloves with it and seal up.

Of course there are cases where some of these rules don't apply, such as volumes made up from leaves taken from several other volumes or pamphlets.

In case of a book of this kind place every leaf in correct order, and write directions very carefully."

Many books will need repair. A few hours spent in the bindery, studying the methods of putting a book together, will be helpful, not only in the matter of securing good binding, but in the repairing of books that have gone to pieces. Mend and rebind your books the minute they seem to need it. Delay is the extravagant thing in this case. If you are slow in this matter, leaves and sections will be lost, and the wear the broken-backed volume is getting will soon remove a part of the fold at the back of the several sections, and make the whole book a hopeless wreck forever.