Set up, operate, and maintain the machinery to create bound books, magazines, and catalogs.
The process of combining printed sheets into finished products such as books, magazines, catalogs, folders, and directories is known as “binding.” When publications or advertising supplements have been printed, they must then be folded, glued, stitched, stapled, trimmed, or otherwise turned into the finished product that will be seen by the public. Bindery workers set up, operate, and maintain the machines that perform these various tasks, while bookbinders perform highly skilled hand finishing operations.
Job duties depend on the material being bound. Some types of binding and finishing jobs consist of only one step. Preparing leaflets or newspaper inserts, for example, requires only folding and trimming. Binding books and magazines, on the other hand, requires a number of steps. Bindery workers first assemble the books and magazines from large, flat, printed sheets of paper. They then operate machines that first fold printed sheets into “signatures,” which are groups of pages arranged sequentially. They then assemble the signatures in sequence and join them by means of a saddle-stitch process or perfect binding (where no stitches are used). In firms that do “edition binding,” workers bind books produced in large numbers, or “runs.”
Bookbinders also do repair work on rare books, such as sewing, stitching, or gluing the assembled printed sheets. They also shape 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. In establishments that print new books, this work is done mechanically.
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. Some binders repair books and provide other specialized binding services to libraries.
Bookbinders and bindery workers in small shops may perform many binding tasks, while those in large shops tend to specialize. Tasks may include performing perfect binding or operating laminating machinery. Others specialize as folder operators or cutter operators, and may perform adjustments and minor repairs to equipment as needed.
Work environment. Binderies often are noisy and jobs can be strenuous, requiring considerable lifting, standing, and carrying. Binding often resembles an assembly line on which workers perform repetitive tasks. The jobs also may require stooping, kneeling, and crouching. Equipment and protective clothing that help minimize injuries is available; however, minor injuries occur frequently in the occupation.
Bookbinders and bindery workers normally work 40 hours per week, although weekend and holiday hours may be necessary to meet production schedules. Some bindery workers may work on shifts for larger printers that operate around the clock. Part-time and on-call schedules are common to meet fluctuating demand or impending deadlines.
Training, Qualifications, and Advancement
On-the-job training remains the most common form of training for entry level bindery workers, but new technology will require workers to obtain more formal training. Attention to detail and mechanical aptitude are important for these jobs.
Education and training. High school students interested in bindery careers should take shop courses or attend a vocational-technical high school. Occupational skill centers also provide an introduction to bindery work and bookbinding. For entry-level positions, most employers look for high school graduates or those with associate degrees.
Training in graphic communications also can be an asset. Vocational-technical institutes offer postsecondary programs in the graphic arts, as do some skill-updating or retraining programs and community colleges. Other programs are made available by unions to their members. Four-year colleges also offer programs related to printing and publishing, but their emphasis is on preparing people for careers as graphic artists, educators, or managers in the graphic arts field.
While postsecondary education is available, most bookbinders and bindery workers learn the craft through on-the-job training. Inexperienced workers may start out as helpers and perform simpler tasks, such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding machines or catching stock as it comes off 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. Usually, it takes one to three months to learn to operate simpler machines but it can take up to one year to become completely familiar with more complex equipment, such as computerized binding machines. As workers gain experience, they learn to operate more types of equipment. To keep pace with changing technology, retraining is increasingly important for bindery workers.
Formal apprenticeships are not as common as they used to be, but still are offered by some employers. Apprenticeships allow beginners to acquire skills by working alongside skilled workers while also taking classes. The more structured apprenticeship programs enable workers to acquire the high levels of specialization and skill needed for some bindery and bookbinding jobs.
Other qualifications. Bindery work requires careful attention to detail. Accuracy, patience, neatness, and good eyesight are all important. Mechanical aptitude is necessary to operate automated equipment, and workers with computer skills will increasingly be in demand. Manual dexterity is needed in order to count, insert, and fold. In addition, creativity and artistic ability are necessary for hand bookbinding.
Certification and advancement. With experience, binders can expect increased salaries and more responsibility. Completion of a formal certification program can further advancement opportunities. Without additional training, advancement opportunities outside of bindery work are limited. In large binderies, experienced bookbinders or bindery workers may advance to supervisory positions.
In 2008, bookbinders and bindery workers held about 66,500 jobs, including 6,100 as bookbinders and 60,400 as bindery workers. More than 8 out of 10 bookbinding and bindery jobs were in printing and related support activities. Traditionally, the largest employers of bindery workers were bindery trade shops, which are companies that specialize in providing binding services for printers without binderies or whose printing production exceeds their binding capabilities. However, this type of binding is now being done increasingly in-house, and is now called “in-line finishing.” The publishing industry employed 5 percent of bookbinders and bindery workers.
Employment of bookbinders and bindery workers is projected to decline rapidly between 2008 and 2018, but opportunities for skilled, specialized bindery workers should be good because of their experience and expertise. Many job openings also will be created by bindery workers who transfer to other occupations.
Employment change. Overall employment of bookbinders and bindery workers is expected to decline rapidly by 19 percent between 2008 and 2018. Over this period, demand for bindery workers will slow as distribution of advertising supplements shifts from print to electronic media even as print productivity increases. Employment declines, however, may be ameliorated somewhat, because the demand for quick turnaround of print work, typical for most commercial printing work, makes work less amenable to being outsourced to foreign countries. To a great extent, sophisticated equipment has automated much of the mechanical bindery work, allowing more companies to perform bindery services in-house rather than send work to specialized binding shops. Also, more efficient and flexible binding machinery will slow the growth in demand for workers to do specialized binding.
Job prospects. Experienced workers will continue to have the best opportunities for skilled jobs. Prospects for all bindery jobs will be best for workers who have completed training or certification programs, internships, or who have experience in a related production occupation.
Median hourly wages of bookbinders were $14.92 in May 2008, compared to $13.99 per hour for all production occupations. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.34 and $19.46 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.35, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $27.68.
Median hourly wages of bindery workers were $13.17 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $10.23 and $17.02 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.42, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $21.31.
For More Information
Information about apprenticeships and other training opportunities may be obtained from local printing industry associations, local binderies, local offices of the Graphic Communications Conference or local offices of the State employment service. Apprenticeship information is also available from the U.S. Department of Labor's toll-free helpline: 1 (877) 282-5627.
For information on careers and training programs in printing and the graphic arts, contact:
- Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 20191. Internet: http://www.gaerf.org/
- Printing Industries of America 200 Deer Run Rd., Sewickley, PA 15143. Internet: http://www.printing.org/
- NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing Publishing, and Converting Technologies, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston, VA 20191. Internet: http://www.npes.org/education/index.html
- National Association of Printing Leadership , 75 West Century Road, Suite 100, Paramus, NJ 07652. Internet: http://www.napl.org/