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Oops! One of these pages is not like the other
A publisher error, missed by the cataloger and binding technician, but caught at the bindery. This Senate hearing report is upside down within its cover. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023

Perfecting the final product, Part 2: 100% Quality Review

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The Processing and Preparation Section (PPS) carries on duty of the care of the collection started by the first Binding Office over 120 years ago, but times have changed. That first binding office was made up of staff on loan from the Government Printing Office (since renamed the Government Publishing Office), and their work was reviewed as it was completed and sent to the shelves.

Today’s binding office, aka PPS, works with a commercial bindery in Indiana due to the large amount of books requiring hardcover binding and the significant advances in technology over the past 120 years. Even though the bindery uses a seamless network interface with Library of Congress staff, mistakes still happen, and it is up to the PPS staff to identify them when they return.

“To err is human,” as the saying goes, but the PPS staff do their best to limit those errors as much as possible. In part one of this series, I wrote how staff have learned numbers, months, and other common descriptors in other languages to help process the collection, as well as a computer language to create short programming macros. In this part, we will look at the quality review done with each and every book returned to the Library from the commercial bindery.

Bound items are unpacked after returning from the commercial bindery
Bound items return to the Library in secured crates are then organized back into their lots. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023

The Library, through the dedicated staff of PPS, conducts a 100% review of all items returning from the commercial bindery. While PPS staff create lots of monographs and monographic serials, staffs of full-time employees and contractors create serial lots from various collections in the Library such as Law, Asian, and African and Middle Eastern (AMED). Though PPS staff only creates a third of what is sent out, it conducts a peer review of everything that returns.

Monograph items are single books, usually individual titles, but they may be parts of a larger collection. For those items less than a ¼ inch thick, they are sent to the bindery with only their call number, as the spine is not large enough to display a title and author. Those larger than a ¼ inch but less than two inches are considered a standard size book, and usually have an author and title on the spine with the call number at the bottom, or on the front cover if there isn’t enough room on the spine. Any book thicker than two inches must be divided by a cataloger or sent to be boxed because the weight of the pages would break the binding. Some monographs may be part of a series, or several items from a single report or event, but are not classified as serials.

Book trucks full of bound books along a wall.
Recently bound items are organized by lot on book trucks with the relevant information tagged on the end. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023


Serial items are serialized releases, such as magazines, journals, and some official documents like minutes and memoranda. If several items can be organized sequentially, they will be bound together. The binding of serials costs slightly more than monographs, but by binding several items together, it is far less than if they were bound individually. All serial items are sent with the title and call number as long as the requisite variable information is present, which may include, but is not limited to volume, number, month, year, etc. These items must be checked with care to ensure that each item is bound in order and properly formatted.

PPS staff also review certain special items for binding, most including pocket material. This could be as simple as maps that come along with travel books or CDs or other digital media that may accompany textbooks or business journals. The bindery is instructed to create the necessary pockets on the inside of the back cover made of paper (for materials under ¼ inch thick), cloth (for materials over ¼ inch thick), and Tyvek (for CDs and other digital media). All must be inspected during the quality review process.

300 books in one picture
A 300-book unlettered recase (UR) lot, prepared and ready to be packed for shipment to the commercial bindery. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

When processing books for binding, items are collected into lots, each assigned to a technician, and then kept together throughout the binding process until the quality review. A standard serial lot has 100 to 120 items on it, with the style depending on the thickness of the items, or their specialty. Individual serials with a single signature (or fold) are pamphlets (P). Single items with individual glued or loose pages, or a small number of pamphlets are bound as economy serial (ES). Serials with pocket material are style A. Larger serials are style D.


Monograph lots can range from a dozen to 300 items. Individual pamphlets like the serials are sent with only the call number, in style unlettered pamphlet (UP). Thin monographs with loose or glued pages are unlettered books (UB), while thin monographs with individual signatures sewn together are unlettered recases (UR). Larger monographs that are glued, loose leaf, or damaged, are books (B). Larger monographs that are individual signatures sewn together are recase (RS). Any monograph item with pocket material of any type is sent as style C.

Misprinted dates
Two Asian serial items returned from the bindery with their dates in the wrong place on the spine, a 9B error. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

All of that information may seem like a lot to process, but it is merely the foundation of the knowledge the PPS staff must retain for us to do our jobs effectively. When doing our quality review, we must be on the lookout for thousands of possible mistakes. We classify those mistakes as those committed by the bindery (9B), those committed by the binding staff (9L), those committed by the catalogers (CC), or those that have physically damaged the item (Damage).

A book that started the binding process but was stopped due to publisher error
A partially bound item returned from the bindery due to a publisher error. You can clearly see the security tracking device attached to the spine, and the endpaper wrapping the book. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

The bindery takes each item and removes the original spine, places a security tracking device, Library specific endpaper, and book board wrapped in buckram, imprinted with the text indicated by the ticket that was created by the binding staff. They then place a printed barcode label on the back and tape the binding slip inside the front cover to aid the review process. If any one of those things is done incorrectly, it is a 9B error. The book could have been bound upside down. A folded page may have been bound shut. The imprinted text may be lower on the spine or the cover than the Library’s standard. The imprinted text may be in the wrong color, causing it to be unreadable (such as black text on a dark colored buckram like our standard ruby red). These are 9B errors and may be returned to the bindery for repair if they can’t be dealt with more quickly by PPS staff.

Oops! One of these pages is not like the other
A publisher error, missed by the cataloger and binding technician, but caught at the bindery. This Senate hearing report is upside down within its cover. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023

For the errors committed by Library staff involved in the binding process, it is a 9L error. These are mistakes made when creating the binding ticket, so it can be made by PPS staff or the binding processor in the various serial divisions. These types of errors consist of misspellings or incorrect information in the call number, improper editing of titles, incorrect placement of diacritic marks, or missing issues from serial items that are not accounted for. Some of these problems can be dealt with onsite, but those more serious require returning the item to the bindery for correction.

Books flagged for errors
Cataloging errors found during the sorting, binding preparation, and quality review process, noted as CC errors. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

The third and final type of errors found are CC errors, which are mistakes or changes made by cataloging staff. This could be information that is different between the Bibliographic, Holdings, or Item records, each being needed for each individual item. Some of these errors can be spotted while reviewing the information on the computer during the review, but most are found when run through a software program called QACheck. This software, originally developed by a cataloging staffer, compares the three records and identifies discrepancies between the three. It is just another tool in the arsenal of the binding staff.

Asian and AMED materials ready for transport
Items reviewed and placed in transport trucks for the Asian and AMED collections. These trucks have wooden doors placed within the brackets shown at either side, and then locked at the top right corner for secure transport. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2023.

Once each item is checked, it is noted in our online quality review database. After the entire lot is completed, the items are dispersed to either the problem trucks for correction, or to transport trucks for transit to the various reading rooms. The General Collection receives most of these items, with Law, Asian, and AMED following behind in number. Damaged items are sent to the General Collections Conservation Section so they can be repaired, or a replacement can be purchased if the original is unable to be saved.

This may seem painstaking, but through basic training and building our own knowledge base and comfort level, a staff member in PPS can review a book every 30 seconds to two minutes. With the PPS staff’s approval, off each item goes to join the thousands of other stories within the Library’s collection, and hopefully to the hands of a researcher in need of the knowledge contained therein.




  1. Excellent analysis. Genuinely thought-provoking. Knowing that so much care goes into the preservation of these books give me hope for the preservation of our collective knowledge as a species. Especially when it comes time to call on a specific periodical! kudos

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