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Can you help me understand the difference in bindings?

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Dear Dr. Laura,

I am the first certified librarian on my campus. YAY! But, I have so much work ahead of me to build up our library collection. My predecessors bought a lot of paperback books from the various book fairs they had over the years. There are other books that seem to be hardback but they are not holding up to well. The school also accepted a lot of donations, which can be good, but those books are falling apart! Can you help me understand the difference in bindings so I can plan to buy the best kinds of books I should buy?


Learning Librarian

Did you know there are actually library binding standards? I had never really thought of it before to be honest with you. The idea of “library binding” is that books are prepared in such a way to allow for increased use in comparison to a book that is bought for personal use. So, paperback and hardback books you buy from the store or even a vendor are made for personal/lighter use and won’t hold up to the amount of handling they get in the library setting.

“Library binding” comes in two main categories – original library binding vs after-market library binding. Original library binding indicates the books’ pages were sewn in place and the spine was reinforced.

After-market library binding typically takes a paperback or hardback book and sends it to a company where it is re-bound with a library binding.

So, if you are going to begin strategically building your collection, you should start thinking about the types of binding that will work best for your population. More than likely you’ll choose library binding for titles you will consider as part of your permanent collection instead of paperback or hardback. Should ever buy paperback or hardback? Well, sometimes you don’t have a choice. It may be the only binding available that you have access to from an approved vendor. Also, there are popular series or topics that are hot topics right now but probably won’t become part of your permanent collection. Paperback works well in this circumstance.

Let’s assume you want to focus on library bound books. You won’t see much of a difference between original and after-market library binding in my opinion. Now of course, your sales reps will tell you differently! One thing you will want to find out before you place an order is what the binding type is and what the publisher/vendor’s guarantee is. I’ve gathered a few links for you here from some school library publishers/vendors. Be sure to look at the ones who are on approved bid lists from your district. Most of these publishers are going to sell all types of bindings: paperback, hardback, original library binding, and after-market library binding. So be careful when creating your order list. Pay attention to which option you add to your cart or list.

Invite your book representative to visit with you. You can even ask them for a sample of their binding. Most will be happy to oblige this request. Discuss their guarantee. If a book spine breaks or the pages fall out, what does their company offer to do for you? Some will only guarantee their re-bound after-market books. Some will ask you to mail the books back to them for replacement. Others will not ask that. How do they handle books that are out of print? Do they give you store credit or will they send you the replacement book? Get into the nitty gritty details so you can work with a company that is best suited for you.

As you start to weed your collection, check and see if you can tell where your predecessor bought the books from. Maybe you can find the purchase orders. Maybe there is a sticker in the book. Maybe they have the order information in the MARC records. If you get a pile of books from one company that needs to be weeded, invite the representative from that company to visit you and talk through your options. You may be surprised at what they can do for you. (I would not expect much help with paperback books that have fallen apart. That is pretty much an expectation at some point.)

With a little cleaning out and some strategic planning, you will start to build a permanent collection that will last for years to come!

Dr. Laura

This week's podcast guest is Jennifer LaGarde. Listen to her tips for librarians who are trying to connect with others at their campuses:

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Social Media: Links to Jennifer’s Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and email contacts listed at

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