What Kind of Binding Does Your Book Need?

Today I have an interview with Martin Pugh, Director of sales and marketing for Houchen Bindery Ltd. based out of Utica, Nebraska. Houchen Bindery Ltd. has been in business since 1935 as a certified Library Binding company, and is now today one of only a few remaining certified Library Binding companies. Martin Pugh started in the catalog printing business in 1983, followed by a 5 year stint as vice president of a direct mail order greeting card company in Colorado, before beginning his own Hong Kong based book production firm in 1990 which specialized in full color art and coffee table books, children’s books, and books plus related items. Moving back to his home state, he joined Houchen Bindery Ltd in 2008 to help diversify the company into areas of edition binding and photobook production and new services.

(1) Could you explain library binding to my readers? (including why it got such a bad reputation among librarians…)

MP: The term Library Binding refers to a specialized type of work that is done specific to organizations such as school and public libraries, universities, law libraries and other institutions. There are a few variations of services that are provided and fairly well described on my company website here The term “certified Library Binder” means we follow the standards of our industry organization called The Library Binding Institute and a free copy of those standards are listed here.

I am sorry…I don’t know about the bad rap amongst librarians. Houchen Bindery Ltd. currently serves thousands of libraries throughout the country. The only thing I am aware of is that the market is not a growing market. Perhaps some librarians were poorly served by a bindery they worked with… [Editor’s note: that is what happened in some cases. Some library edition binderies cut corners. They apparently assumed that long-lasting books would remain on the shelf, rather than “taking a beating” by being checked out to patrons. Back in the 20th century, these binderies gave library binding a bad reputation.]

(2) How your special types of library binding are better?

MP I grew up in the printing and trade book manufacturing industry and joined Houchen Bindery Ltd a little more than 3 years ago. The main differences in what I call “Library Binding” vs “Trade Binding” are the materials (end papers, fabrics and boards).

Those used in Library Binding are all acid free, and usually lignin free, and the glues (if glues are used) are a more flexible, long lasting glue called PolyVinyl Acetate (PVA). Lignin refers to “wood” and basically means that a paper with lignin, (containing wood particles) will under sunlight and normal exposure over time become much more quickly yellowed and aged looking. Lignin free or how they called it in Asian Printing “woodfree paper” means it is a higher quality uncoated sheet of paper that will last long, and is archivally stable.

Trade Binding of a soft cover book usually uses a glue called Ethyl Vinyl Acetate (EVA). Typically libraries will circulate a trade bound book between 6 to 10 times and then it must be rebound using Library Binding methods. Once it is Library Bound, it should last for several years. The cover material used in Library Binding is usually F-Grade Buckram, which is highly laminated book cloth which is thick, rugged and durable. The cover corner folding in Library binding is different also than trade or edition binding. The Library bound corner of a book is designed to take more of a beating and still hold up over time.

(3) What kinds of binding are substandard for libraries?

MP: I can definitely tell you that most libraries do not accept a book that is saddlestich bound.  “Saddlestich bound” is like a magazine binding with staples in the side, allowing for no printing to be on the spine edge of the book. They will tell you that type of binding will not allow for an indentification on the spine of the book, therefore can not be placed in their library. Beyond that, I think the standards have dropped somewhat, but I could be wrong. For children’s books, you used to be only able to get your title into a library only if it was “Reinforced Library Bound“- which, of course, our company still does a lot of. Now I think a book gets in to a library more on it’s merit than it’s binding. It can always be re-bound later, but a poorly written (or designed) book will never make it to the shelf. Cheaply produced books are usually shunned.

Is hardbound worth the extra cost for an author?
That is a great question! I think the answer is tied to what genre of book and what market it is designed for. A book designed to last multiple generations such as an art book, genealogy, photography or memoir type book would be best to go hardbound. We also do many projects involving what we call a “split run” — part of the books are bound as soft cover and part of the run of books are hard covers. Here is a link to our editions division at Houchen Bindery Ltd.

Or is that just for bestsellers?
As we produce mainly all shorter run lengths of hard cover books for small to mid sized publishers and individuals, I would hesitate to say that they are bestsellers.

(4) What kind of binding is best for fiction, or other genre books?

MP: Good question — of course a fiction book in soft cover will usually be perfect bound (trade paperback). But the hard cover version could go as what we call “Ultra-Bind” (an approved library binding method) or also we now produce many as PUR case perfect. Art books in larger quantities are usually “Smyth sewn“. If you have a children’s book (generally 32-64 pages), we usually produce as “reinforced side sewn” and it is also an approved library binding method). There’s an article I recently wrote at Editionbinding.com and here is its link with further information on the subject.

Round Back Editions

Anything else about binding that would help authors sell books to libraries?
MP: If they accept a soft cover, always have the softcover book protected with film lamination. Don’t let a printer sell you aqueous coating on the cover and think it will pass the muster of a discriminating librarian. Many of the objections I hear about also include things like incorrect or missing CIP data, an incorrect or non existent index, and/or improperly designed copyright details, none of which are binding problems, but stuff you should consider all the same. Those type of things jump out to a librarian who has to catalog a book in order to get it in the system. With a nice thick edition of around 1″ thick or more, I would recommend to to have the spine “rounded and backed“, or what some call “rounded“. Librarians do prefer this look for heavier titles because the pages lay open nicer. Here is a link for some pictures of  various types of spine variations we produce.

I went to a bindery at Madison WI for a tour as a student. Later I went back and got my poetry hardbound (just for me) a long time ago. I loved that book. It was green and had gold lettering. Does your company give tours?

Yes, of course with advance notice, I love to give tours. It is a very interesting place to come see. We have a 40,000 square foot facility with about 55 full time employees. If you ever get out to Nebraska we are just off I-80 at exit 366 (in between York and Seward, NE) and 36 miles west of Lincoln NE.

You can contact Martin Pugh at or 1-800-869-0420.

Thanks Martin, for sharing this valuable information about bookbinding with us today!


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