Book Cloth Coverings: When Demand Exceeds Supply

This is a guest post by Clifton (Cliff) Fulwood, Head, Processing and Preparation Section in the Preservation Services Division.

Background

I received a call prior to the pandemic from the Library’s commercial binder that seemed surreal. I was informed that the covering material used for our commercial bound serials and monographs was in short supply. The covering material called buckram has been used to bind the Library’s materials for well over 75 years.

Superiority of Buckram. High Quality at a Low Cost.

Buckram is a book cloth made from cotton or linen normally the former. The basis of cotton made buckram is poly cotton impregnated with a 100% aqueous acrylic coating making the book extremely durable. Library materials bound in buckram are expected to have a lifespan of 50-100 years. This material is water, stain, and mildew resistant. In addition it has excellent scuff, abrasion and cracking resistance.

 

Buckram color samples

Buckram color samples; Photo credit: Cliff Fulwood

 

Cause and Effect

With the onset of more digital content, the library binding industry has been in steady retreat. Small binderies have been closing down or merging with other binderies. The industry has diversified by offering digital and conservation services to stay afloat. The effect has been a reduction in demand for traditional covering materials.

Now I know a little about demand exceeding supply. My wife and I were addicted to a soy milk made out of a substitute for chocolate called carob. We would go shopping, see the item and try to clear the shelves. Unfortunately, each time we would go shopping the item was stocked less and less, until our demand exceeded the supply. Eventually, there was no supply.

I would never have dreamed that buckram might be in short supply.

 

Buckram bound items in assorted colors

Buckram bound items in assorted colors; Photo credit: Cliff Fulwood

What’s Our Options?

 If buckram, which has been a main stay in Libraries for so many years, is no longer available, what are our options? Are there materials that might be inferior to buckram but yet supply the protection needed in this changing environment?

 There are a variety of materials that are being used in Library binding but the industry has stipulated that none are as strong and durable as buckram.

 

Buckram bound items on bookshelf, with other books.

Buckram bound items on bookshelf, with other books. Photo credit: Cliff Fulwood

 

 In Search of a Path Forward

 The Preservation Service Division has begun a one year pilot using one of the alternative covering materials. Our goal is to assess the materials durability as it circulates throughout the vast Library collections.

 The Preservation Directorate is also conducting market research in order to assist in plotting a path forward for the Library of Congress, and as a voting member of the National Information Standards Organization, to contribute to future book covering standard discussions. We believe answers to the following questions will assist in guiding decision making in the future.

  1. Do you reference ANSI/NISO/LBC Z39.78-2000 R2018 in your binding procurements or service offerings? Are there other standards or measures you reference in your procurement or in your service offerings?
  2. Do you consider the standards well suited to current needs? Do you see value in a new or modified standard?
  3. How consistent is the need for binding services from your perspective? And to the extent the demand is changing, how rapid is this change?
  4. Do you face difficulties acquiring sufficient quantities of supplies or supplies of sufficient quality?
  5. Are there other supply chain factors-such as storage, transit time, shipping modes, etc. that have a material impact on the way you use binding services or acquire supplies?

 The Directorate has conducted virtual sessions with stakeholders from the Preservation community to solicit answers to the market research questions outlined above. The information gathered will provide valuable information for future decisions concerning material coverings for Library of Congress books and serials.

 

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