Education and Training: High school
Salary: Median—$13.71 per hour
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
A bookbinder turns the large printed sheets that come off printing presses into books, magazines, brochures, catalogs, calendars, or loose-leaf folios. Bindery work may include cutting, perforating, folding, and collating sheets, or it may require sewing or pasting together folded sets of pages, "tipping in" illustrations, or stamping book covers or "cases" with foil. The skilled binder rarely handles all of these operations but must be familiar with each of them.
Twenty-first century bookbinders need the ability to operate many machines related to their trade. Those who know how to operate only one or two types of these machines are called bindery workers. Despite the trend toward machine-operated bookbinding, skilled artisans or hand binders can still find work. They can repair books, bind deluxe editions or presentation copies, design leather covers, or work in the bindery section of a library.
There are several different kinds of bookbinding. Softcover and pamphlet binders use adhesive, staples, thread, or wire to bind paperback books, brochures, and magazines. Blankbook binders prepare printed ruled pages for bookkeeping ledgers. Rotating drills punch holes in these pages, and then the sheets are inserted between heavy, stiff covers. The most complex of the binding types is the hardcover binding used to produce durable books in large quantities for general use.
Approximately half a dozen different steps go into the production of a hardcover book. The process begins with the folding machine operator, who runs the large printed sheets through a machine that folds them into sets of sixteen, thirty-two, or sixty-four pages. These sets are called signatures. The gatherer operates a collating machine, which assembles the signatures in the proper order. Each set of gathered signatures is pressed down tight, and then the sets are sewn together by the stitcher. The backer shapes the spine of the book with power presses, and the backs are glued and lined. The page edges are trimmed to the proper size, and then the caser-in glues on the premade covers. These covers, made of cloth or paper pasted over cardboard, have been carefully cut and assembled by other workers. Finally, the books are jacketed and packed in cartons or loaded onto wooden platforms, called skids, for delivery.
Education and Training Requirements
High school students interested in working in this field should try to get a summer job in a local bindery. Generally, a high school education is required to enter a four- or five-year training program. An apprentice learns to assemble signatures, repair old bindings, and operate the different machines used in the binding process. For the job of bindery worker, a two-year apprenticeship is available.
Getting the Job
The best way to enter the field is to apply for an apprenticeship. Interested individuals can apply at the local office of the state employment service or at a local bindery, or they can contact their local union.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Promotion depends upon proven skills and the amount of training and experience the bookbinder has. Workers with computer skills, especially in the graphic arts, have a definite advantage. The bookbinder who can attend to the entire binding process, rather than just a few steps, has more potential and may move up to the job of supervisor or inspector. Experienced bookbinders may open their own shops, where they can practice the fine binding of limited editions, offer book repair and thesis-binding services, or bind gift books for special occasions. Starting such a business requires some knowledge of accounting and bookkeeping.
About eighty-one thousand bindery workers and bookbinders were employed in the publishing and advertising industry in the United States in 2004. As more and more binding lines become mechanized, the demand for bindery workers in large shops is decreasing; however, job opportunities for skilled bookbinders should be slightly better than for bindery workers.
Binderies are usually well lighted and well ventilated, but they are noisy. Workers stand at their machines most of the day. In addition, they do a considerable amount of stretching and lifting to operate these machines and often carry heavy batches of printed matter. A bookbinder typically works a forty-hour, five-day week but may work overtime because of tight publishing deadlines.
Where to Go for More Information
Guild of Book Workers
521 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10175-0083
National Association for Printing Leadership
75 W. Century Rd.
Paramus, NJ 07652-1408
Earnings and Benefits
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, book-binders earn a median hourly salary of $13.71, which translates into $28,516 per year. Bindery workers earn a median income of $11.31 per hour. Union contracts may provide higher rates of pay for overtime work. Benefits for bookbinders usually include paid vacations and holidays, health insurance, and retirement plans.