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Craig Preservation Lab

The Future of Commercial Binding

Hi all! I am Chelsea Liddell, the new Binding and Preservation Review Coordinator here at the Preservation Lab.


Here I am, hard at work!

Erin McAvoy has moved onwards and upwards, and though we miss her dearly here at the Lab, we are so happy for her and excited for all the new opportunities she will have! I worked for Erin as a student employee for two years before taking this position, and you may have seen me around here a few times before. Today I wanted to talk about what exactly those of us working with commercial binderies do these days and how the position is growing and evolving.

As we are no doubt all aware, more and more information is becoming available exclusively in electronic form. This is a positive thing for many reasons, more convenient and accessible for users, less to store and maintain for universities, but it presents a problem for those of us who are in the business of binding. So what’s a girl in charge of a commercial binding unit to do when there are fewer and fewer serials to be bound? Well, that’s the question that we have been endeavoring to answer here at the Preservation Lab and we feel that we’ve come up with some great solutions.

The key to innovation in libraries is to expand our definition of them. They aren’t (and never were) simple book repositories, but rather community centers, technological trendsetters, purveyors of global knowledge, and protectors of history. In the future, we will no doubt find even more hats to wear! To move forward, it is important to understand how all these roles interconnect and what new roles it makes sense for us to take on. This is the key to redefining the role of commercial binding in libraries.

If we expand our definition of binding, then all of a sudden a lot more opportunities open up. The other wonderful staff here at the Lab have been teaching me how to bind items by hand, which helps me understand to a much greater degree exactly what is being done to our books at the commercial bindery. After all, commercial binding is just a mechanized version of many of these hand-binding techniques.

Another area that we have been able to expand my role to encompass is evaluation and boxing of items moving to the ALF (Auxiliary Library Facility). We recently began moving materials out to the ALF at the rate of 10,000 per week in preparation for our Fine Arts Library’s move to the Wells Library. The materials being moved are low use, and there is a high rate of brittle paper and damaged bindings. My role in this project is to evaluate the damaged items and determine what type of enclosure would suit them best, so that they can be placed in the ALF without undergoing further injury. The emphasis is on choosing the most efficient, cost-effective solution that will do the job, including tying with cotton tie, sandwiching items between boards in a Tyvek envelope, and Kasemake boxes. This sort of work is a natural extension of a binder’s job; evaluating what type of enclosure would preserve the item best, while ensuring that no undue damage is caused.

By taking part in the everyday workflow of the Preservation Lab, while also taking on new projects, I am able to help out my colleagues, learn new things, and ensure that I am always busy! Although I have only been in this position for a short time, I have already expanded my skill set so much and learned so many wonderful new things. It is my hope that I can continue to find new arenas to expand into and that the commercial binding unit will continue to become more integrated into the rest of the work done here at the lab.


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