How to Test and Examine a Binding

Many librarians deal with incoming printed and bound materials virtually every day. As stated in my previous articles, the quality of such incoming materials, especially trade edition hard cover bound books, is a questionable matter. Publishers see such works as “consumable commodities.” Yet, an important function of a librarian who handles incoming materials is to extend the useful life of these materials. A careful inspection of bindings, using the following guidelines culled from my work as a technical consultant for LBI, may be a worthwhile endeavor in your library.

Testing bindingsTrade edition hard cover bindings

Use both hands. Lift the book on the front and back covers and let the book block hang freely downwards. Observe the hinges. Are the end papers glued tight into those joint areas or is there a gap? If they are loose, do not circulate the book, as it will not last. The book block and cover will soon separate.

Open the book in the center. Bend the covers backwards until they join each other. This is called a “Subway” test and it is used to determine if pages will remain secure or if they will pop loose.

If a book fails either of these tests, your choices are to repair it, have it library bound in accordance to NISO/LBI specifications, return it, or better yet, see if the title is available pre-bound from Bound To Stay Bound Books.

There are of course many other tests, but these two determine the basic, minimum quality one would expect from bound volumes. I recommend that these tests become a routine task for all incoming bound materials.

Library edition hard cover bindings

A book bound in accordance to the NISO/LBI specifications may cost a bit more, but the benefit is at least a ten-fold increase in circulation. This investment in a better binding will result in ultimate savings. Having examined library bindings over the last 25 years, I have seen very few quality problems. Nevertheless, you should check to ensure that all specifications have been followed by using the same testing procedures as described above for trade edition bindings.

Bindings should be examined not only when a book is received but also after it circulates several times. This is a true measure that will identify the quality of a binding.