Bindery Workers

Significant Points

  • Most bindery workers train on the job.
  • Opportunities for hand bookbinders are limited because of the small number of establishments that do this highly specialized work.
  • Employment of bindery workers is expected to grow more slowly than average, reflecting increasingly productive bindery operations.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

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 types of binding and finishing consist of only one step. Preparing leaflets or newspaper inserts, for example, require only folding. Binding of books and magazines, on the other hand, requires a number of steps.

Bookbinders assemble books and magazines from large, flat, printed sheets of paper. Skilled bookbinders operate machines that first fold printed sheets into "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 in 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 manual or electronic guillotine paper cutters or folding machines. Others specialize in adjusting and preparing equipment, and may perform minor repairs as needed.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Binderies are often noisy and jobs can be fairly strenuous, requiring considerable lifting, standing, and carrying. They may also require stooping, kneeling, and crouching. Binding often resembles an assembly line where workers perform repetitive tasks.

Employment [About this section]  Index

In 1998, bindery workers held about 96,000 jobs, including about 6,600 working as skilled bookbinders and approximately 90,000 working as lesser skilled bindery machine operators.

Although large libraries and book publishers employ some bindery workers, the majority of jobs are in commercial printing plants. Another large employer of bindery workers are bindery trade shops, which specialize in providing binding services for printers without binderies or whose printing production exceeds their binding capabilities. 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 jobs are concentrated near large metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Dallas.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

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. Usually, it takes one to three months to learn to operate the simpler machines but it can take up to one year to become completely familiar with more complex equipment, such as computerized binding machines.

Formal apprenticeships are not as common as they used to be, but are still offered by some employers. Apprenticeships 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.

Employers prefer to hire experienced individuals, but will train workers with some basic knowledge of binding operations. High school students interested in bindery careers should take shop courses or attend a vocational-technical high school. Occupational skill centers, usually operated by labor unions, also provide an introduction to the bindery career. To keep pace with ever-changing technology, retraining will become increasingly important for bindery workers.

Bindery workers need basic mathematics and language skills. Bindery work requires careful attention to detail so accuracy, patience, neatness, and good eyesight are also important. 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.

Training in graphic arts can also be an asset. Vocational-technical institutes offer postsecondary programs in the graphic arts, as do some skill updating or retraining programs, and community 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, educators, or managers in the graphic arts field.

Without additional training, advancement opportunities outside of bindery work are limited. In large binderies, experienced bookbinders may advance to supervisory positions.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of bindery workers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2008 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 population—age groups that do the most leisure reading—will account for most of this growth. At the same time, the growth of product packaging, such as that required for CD-ROM, videos, and other business and educational products, will contribute to the relative stability of binding services. The packaging of these items typically involves folding, gluing, finishing, and shrink-wrapping.

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. However, growth in demand for specialized bindery workers who assist skilled bookbinders will be slowed as binding machinery continues to become more efficient.

The small number of establishments that do this highly specialized work limits opportunities for hand bookbinders. Experienced bindery workers will have the best opportunities.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of bookbinders were $9.95 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.65 and $13.94 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.35, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.56.

Median hourly earnings of bindery machine and set-up operators were $9.91 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $7.55 and $13.39 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.26, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $17.25. Workers covered by union contracts usually had higher earnings.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Other workers who set up and operate production machinery include papermaking machine operators, printing press operators, and various precision machine operators.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

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. Internet: http://www.gciu.org

For information on careers and training programs in printing and the graphic arts, contact:

  • PIA—Printing Industries of America, Inc., 100 Daingerfield Rd., Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.printing.org
  • The Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, 200 Deer Run Road, Sewickley, PA 15143. Internet: http://www.gatf.org

An industry employing bindery workers that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Printing and publishing

O*NET Codes: 89721, 92525, & 92546 About the O*NET codes

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