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Nature of the Work
* Most learn their jobs through on-the-job training.
* The majority of jobs are in commercial printing plants.
* Opportunities for hand bookbinders are limited by the small number of establishments that do this highly specialized work.
The process of combining printed sheets into finished products such as books, magazines, catalogs, folders, directories, or product packaging is known as "binding." Binding involves cutting, folding, gathering, gluing, stapling, stitching, trimming, sewing, wrapping, and other finishing operations. Bindery workers operate and maintain the machines that perform these various tasks.
Job duties depend on the kind of material being bound. In firms that do edition binding, for example, workers bind books produced in large numbers, or "runs." Job binding workers bind books produced in smaller quantities. In firms specializing in library binding, workers repair books and provide other specialized binding services to libraries. Pamphlet binding workers produce leaflets and folders, and manifold binding workers bind business forms such as ledgers and books of sales receipts. Blankbook binding workers bind blank pages to produce notebooks, checkbooks, address books, diaries, calendars, and note pads.
Some binding consists of only one step. Preparing leaflets or newspaper inserts, for example, requires only folding. Binding of books and magazines, on the other hand, requires the steps that follow.
Bookbinders assemble books and magazines from large, flat, printed sheets of paper. Machines are used extensively throughout the process. Skilled bookbinders operate machines that first fold printed sheets into units known as "signatures," which are groups of pages arranged sequentially. Bookbinders then sew, stitch, or glue the assembled signatures together, shape the book bodies with presses and trimming machines, and reinforce them with glued fabric strips. Covers are created separately, and glued, pasted, or stitched onto the book bodies. The books then undergo a variety of finishing operations, often including wrapping in paper jackets.
A small number of bookbinders work in hand binderies. These highly skilled workers design original or special bindings for limited editions, or restore and rebind rare books. The work requires creativity, knowledge of binding materials, and a thorough background in the history of binding. Hand bookbinding gives individuals the opportunity to work at the greatest variety of jobs.
Bindery workers in small shops may perform many binding tasks, while those in large shops are usually assigned only one or a few operations, such as operating complicated paper cutters or folding machines. Others specialize in adjusting and preparing equipment, and may perform minor repairs as needed.
In 1996, bindery workers held about 86,000 jobs, including just under 4,400 working as skilled bookbinders and over 81,000 working as lesser skilled bindery machine operators.
Although some bindery workers are employed by large libraries and book publishers, the majority of jobs are in commercial printing plants. Few publishers maintain their own manufacturing facilities, so most contract out the printing and assembly of books to commercial printing plants or bindery trade shops. Bindery trade shops, the second largest employer of bindery workers, specialize in binding for printers without binderies, or whose printing production exceeds their binding capabilities.
Bindery workers are employed in all parts of the country, but jobs are concentrated near large metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Dallas.
For bindery jobs, employers prefer high school graduates with basic mathematics and language skills. Accuracy, patience, neatness, and good eyesight are also important. Bindery work requires careful attention to detail. Mistakes at this stage in the printing process may require redoing work from the previous printing stages, and so can be quite costly. Manual dexterity is essential in order to count, insert, paste, and fold. Mechanical aptitude is needed to operate the newer, more automated equipment. Artistic ability and imagination are necessary for hand bookbinding.
Most bindery workers learn the craft through on-the-job training. Inexperienced workers are usually assigned simple tasks such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding machines. They learn basic binding skills, including the characteristics of paper and how to cut large sheets of paper into different sizes with the least amount of waste. As workers gain experience, they advance to more difficult tasks and learn to operate one or more pieces of equipment. Generally, it takes 1 to 3 months to learn to operate the simpler machines but it can take up to 1 year to become completely familiar with more complex equipment, such as computerized binding machines.
Employers prefer to hire and train workers with some basic knowledge of binding operations. High school students interested in bindery careers can gain some exposure to the craft by taking shop courses or attending a vocational-technical high school. Occupational skill centers, usually operated by labor unions, also provide an introduction.
Formal apprenticeships are not as common as they used to be, but are still offered by some employers. They provide a more structured program that enables workers to acquire the high levels of specialization and skill needed for some bindery jobs. For example, a 4-year apprenticeship is usually necessary to teach workers how to restore rare books and to produce valuable collectors' items.
Training in graphic arts is also an asset. Postsecondary programs in the graphic arts are offered by vocational-technical institutes, skill updating or retraining programs, and community and junior colleges. Some updating and retraining programs require students to have bindery experience; other programs are available through unions for members. Four-year colleges also offer programs, but their emphasis is on preparing people for careers as graphic artists or managers in the graphic arts field. To keep pace with ever-changing technology, occasional retraining will become increasingly important for bindery workers.
Without additional training, advancement opportunities outside of bindery work are limited. In large binderies, experienced bookbinders may advance to supervisory positions.
Employment of bindery workers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2006 as demand for printed material grows, but productivity in bindery operations increases. Most job openings for bindery workers will result from the need to replace experienced workers who change jobs or leave the labor force.
Growth of the printing industry will continue to spur demand for bindery workers by commercial printers. The volume of printed material should grow due to increased marketing of products through catalogs, newspaper inserts, and direct mail advertising. Book publishing is expected to grow slowly. Rising school enrollments and the expanding middle-aged and older populationage groups that do the most leisure readingwill account for most of this growth.
Even though major technological changes are not anticipated, binding is becoming increasingly mechanized as computers are attached to, or associated with binding equipment. New "in-line" equipment performs a number of operations in sequence, beginning with raw stock and ending with a complete finished product. Technological advances such as automatic tabbers, counters, palletizers and joggers reduce labor and improve the appearance of the finished product. These improvements are increasingly inducing printing companies to invest in in-house binding and finishing equipment. Growth in demand for special skills for bindery workers who assist skilled bookbinders will be slowed as binding machinery continues to become more efficient.
The growth of product packaging, such as that required for CD-ROMS, videos, and other business and educational products, is contributing to the relative stability of binding services. The packaging of these items typically involves folding, gluing, finishing and shrink wrapping.
Opportunities for hand bookbinders are limited by the small number of establishments that do this highly specialized work. Experienced bindery workers will have the best opportunities.
Bindery workers in 1996 had median weekly earnings of about $408. The middle 50 percent earned about $312 to $627 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $215 a week, while the highest paid 10 percent earned $958 a week or more. Workers covered by union contracts generally had higher earnings.
Other workers who set up and operate production machinery include papermaking machine operators, printing press operators, and various precision machine operators.
Information about apprenticeships and other training opportunities may be obtained from local printing industry associations, local bookbinding shops, local offices of the Graphic Communications International Union, or local offices of the State employment service.
For general information on bindery occupations, write to:
Graphic Communications International Union, 1900 L St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
For information on careers and training programs in printing and the graphic arts, contact:
Education Council of the Graphic Arts Industry, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 20191.
PIA-Printing Industries of America, Inc. 100 Daingerfield Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314.
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