Bindery Repairs 13 Miles of Books
Organization Is One Of Most Valuable Departments
On the 80 miles of shelf space in the University Library, about one out of every six books has been bound by the Harvard Bindery. But while the expansion of many other College departments has been widely publicized, the work of the Bindery has gone unhonored and unsung.
A glance at the basic statistics of the Bindery will give an indication of the phenomenal amount of work it accomplishes. Serving 75 out of the 77 libraries in the University, it rejuvenates about 3500 volumes of all types in a single month. At the present time it has an annual gross sales of $50,000. Furthermore, the 2000 running feet of books bound in one year would stretch from Sever Hall to Eliot House.
When you pick up a book from Widener, therefore, the chances are fairly good that you will find on its back the Bindery's trademark, an emblem with the words "Harvard University Library" printed in g ld. The gold is practically ten carat quality, but is so thin that it is worth almost nothing. Although the Bindery at the present time has $400 worth of gold leaf in its possession, would-be purloiners will have a hard time getting at it.
Worth Their Weight in Gold
Bindery officials are perfectly willing to admit, moreover, that some of the Treasure Room books they repair are worth more than all the gold in the building, which is located on Memorial Drive beyond both Dunster House and the Maintenance Department, In some cases the insured value of individual volumes has approximated that of the entire Bindery.
Procurement of bookbinding supplies recently has been a particularly knotty problem, for the war has affected the whole industry. With the United States almost completely dependent on foreign imports for the best grades of leather bindings, shipments of such goods as calf, pigskin, Levant, and morocco have practically ceased; already one ship with some of its cargo destined for the Harvard Bindery has been sunk.
Because of the foresight of its management, the bindery obtained before the war $10,500 worth of supplies, which is now in stock in the Memorial Drive building. Because of this extensive backlog, the Bindery will be practically self-sufficient for the next two years.
12 Tons of Binding Board
The list of the Bindery's supplies is an impressive one. Stored away at the present time are 24,000 pounds of binders board, seven miles of bookbinding cloth, and 4,000 pounds of paper. Glycerin, a vital component of book-binding glue, is also used in explosives; for this reason the Bindery obtained three years' supply of glue--one and a half tons--so that its demands would not conflict with those of the OPM and national defense.
The 2900 square feet of leather in storage represents the hides of more than 400 animals. One need not fear, however, that all these animals died for the sake of the Harvard Bindery. Morocco leather, for example, is obtained from goats which are a staple food of northern Africa, and all of them would probably be slaughtered in any event.
The Modus Operandi of Binding
The process of binding individual volumes forms one of the most interesting chapters in the Bindery's story. On arriving at the building for repairs, a book is stripped of its cover and prepared for sewing. The loose "signatures," or sets of pages, are assembled in their proper order, and five or six grooves are sawed across the back of the collected pages. The book is then transferred to a seamstress, who places cords in the grooves and sews the book and cords together. Although this process has been mechanized in many binding factories the Harvard Bindery uses sewing-frames which are very similar to those used in Gutenberg's time.
After a thin coating of glue on the back of the book has dried, the book is "rounded" by beating with a hammer. It is then placed in a machine which presses the pages together in such a manner that the covers of the finished book will lie flush with the binding of the "spine", or back of the volume.
If you examine the covers of several rebound books, you will discover that some have three small ridges close to the "spines". Instead of being a defect, these ridges indicate that the book's binding is particularly strong. In such instances, the cords left by the scamstresses are actually woven into the board of the cover, but otherwise the cords are merely frayed out, flattened, and glued down.
Lettering Made by Heated Stamps
When the book has dried and the cover is ready for printing, gold leaf is applied to the areas on which its name, author, and date are to appear. Metal stamps bearing the necessary wording are then heated and pressed into the cover. When the superfluous gold is rubbed off, the printing stands out in sharp contrast to the color of the binding, and the job is done.
At the present time the average cost of binding each volume is about $1.50; only one-tenth of this cost is accounted for by materials, however, the rest going for labor, overhead, etc. Because poor materials save only a few cents per volume and are more difficult to work with, the Bindery invariably uses top-notch goods.
Bindery Has 21-year History
Before becoming one of the most useful adjuncts of the Library, the Bindery went through a long and checkered career. Two decades ago, in 1920, the Bindery had its humble beginnings with a department set up in the Widener basement for repairing damaged books. Farsighted officials realized its potentialities, and it was not long before both the University and the College sent almost all of their binding there. By 1929 the great increase in business forced the Bindery to move to the old Annex of Boylston Hall, which was located where Wigglesworth Hall now sprawls along the south side of the Yard. When the Annex was torn down in the following year, the Bindery had to pack up and move once again, this time to its present location on Memorial Drive.
Meanwhile, relations between the Library and the Bindery were by no means pacific. Although the amount of work which the Bindery did was considerably enlarged, the price per volume did not decrease proportionately, and the Bindery was charging more than its competitors.
Production Increased 26%
To the rescue in 1932 came Robert F. Fiske, an industrial engineer, who made a survey of possible remedies. Apparently insignificant changes, such as the rearrangement of the shop layout, resulted in an increase in the average shop production from 78 to 90 per cent of standard requirements. The most striking alteration, however, was the introduction of the "group bonus payment system," which caused production to jump once more, from 90 to 104 per cent. While the wage scale at the Bindery at the present time is higher than those of outside firms, the prices are 15 to 40 per cent lower.
But the Bindery's work is not limited to bookbinding alone. Under the direction of Fiske, who became manager, the Bindery has made extensive tests in such fields as the acid content of paper, flexible vs. hard glue, and particularly the tanning of book leathers. Some of these tests have doubtless been of great value to the bookbinding industry in general.
As long as Harvard remains in existence, books will be read, and as long as they are read, some will become tattered and torn. As an agency for the preservation of such books, therefore, the Bindery will continue to be an important cog in Harvard's educational machine.