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Lee W. Kikuchi - Essay

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I wrote the following essay to help students preserve their music books, through proper "breaking in" and care.

April 15, 2004






Care of Bound Publications

Music books, unlike any other kind of book, are expected to last a lifetime with very heavy use. This is because, unlike other books, music can be used year after year and the content never gets old. As you acquire your own library of precious music literature, you must take care to ensure that these books have every chance of enduring many years of use which can be at times less than delicate.

One reason music books suffer from severe handling is the need to stand them upright on a music stand or piano, without the pages flipping unexpectedly. The natural tendency for us all is to bend the book backward to make it stay open, but unfortunately this only serves to destroy the binding and in a very short time we have two books instead of one.

Below I will describe some easy steps you can take to “break in” all your new music books so that not only will they lay flat on the stand, but also will last for many years without special rebinding. There are five types of binding, and each one requires its own special “break-in” procedures.

Spiral (loose): Publications which have metal spiral binding, plastic “comb” binding, or even loose sheets in a ring binder require NO SPECIAL treatment as these publications will always lie flat, but also will unfortunately suffer damage quickly to the outermost pages. This is unavoidable due to the nature of the binding and likewise spiral binding is the least desirable for books meant to be kept. However, spiral books can be wonderful for one-time or limited use (such as workbooks, homework assignments, or theatre productions), and spiral/comb binding can be a last resort recovery for other types of publications which have fallen apart. Simply take your damaged book to a nearby copy shop, have them cut the spine, punch the pages and insert the spiral or comb. This will prolong the book’s life for a few more years, until the pages start ripping out.

Stapled (“stitched”): Publications which are a single signature of sheets, folded and stapled along the crease, require no real special treatment. Simply find the mid-point of the book (where the staples can be seen inside), and fold the entire publication backward. This is the worst possible thing to do to glue-bound books, but for stapled books this is fine and will help help the pages to lie flat on the stand. Unfortunately, the covers of stapled publication often detach through normal use, and the only repair possible is to tape it back on to the outside pages.

Simple Glue Binding: Publications where all the pages are pressed, cut even, and glued together to the cover require special pre-handling to prevent them from breaking into two parts. Technically, the glue is the spine (no other materials are applied), which is what makes these books so prone to damage, and which is why glue binding is normally used only for cheap and limited-use publications. Paperback pulp-fiction is the most common book of this type, but many publications included music books can be glue-bound. The first step is to bend each cover backward as far as possible. Make sure to do this exactly at the spine. Then lay the book on a flat surface with the spine and both covers level and the content pages sticking straight up in the middle. Then bend each page one-by-one backward as with the cover, and press it flat using the palm of your hand. Do this starting with the front page, then the back page, alternating back and front, one page at a time until finally you meet in the middle. The goal is to bend the glue binding gently so that when the book lies flat on a surface it arcs like a crescent moon. If you perform this entire break-in procedure and still have not effectively curved the glue binding, repeat it using more force and bending the binding more vigorously with each page to get it to bend. Some glues are much stiffer than others, so the amount of force and bending needed varies from book to book.

Perfect Binding with Glued Spine: Larger and better bound books organize the pages into “signatures” (groups if 5-10 sheets, folded and stitched together with silk thread), which are then glued together to the cover as with plain glue binding. These books must be broken in exactly the same way as for Simple Glue Binding (above), except that some special care is needed when bending the covers. Since the cover is glued onto the group of already stitched signatures, binders apply extra glue to the front pages to help keep the cover attached. This is because the cover will often become detached from the spine during use (which is not a problem normally). Therefore, when bending back the cover, be sure to include the pages which are glue onto the cover, so that the fold-back is placed exactly on the spine. If you do not, the fold will happen about ¼ inch from the spine which will not help when trying to create the curved spine, and which will prevent the book from lying flat on the stand. After the covers have been successfully bent back with the attached pages, proceed with the content pages exactly as above.

Perfect Binding with Cloth Spine: This are considered the highest-quality binding for publications, and is usually reserved for reference hard covers. These books can benefit from the page pressing procedure above, but this is often not required, because the cloth spine will bend naturally and the hard cover is not glued to the spine, but rather glue with heavy stock to the outside pages. To test whether any break-in is needed, simply open the book to the middle (do not bend it backward), lay it flat on a table, and look at the spine. If the spine shows a nice crescent moon curve, it requires no break in. Very few music publications are bound in this way, but no doubt you will purchase hardcover text and reference books in your lifetime, which are and which may need some special break-in to ensure years of trouble-free use.

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