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Monday, February 11, 2013

How a Library of America book is born

We recently remembered a brief article that appeared in a 2004 Library of America newsletter, which described how an LOA book is produced. Since the manufacturing process hasn’t changed a bit in the last decade, we share it here with our readers:

Figure 1: A Timson printing press at Edwards Brothers Malloy in Ann Arbor, one of only three locations in the United States that meet Library of America’s rigorous production standards. [All LOA books are now printed at Edwards Brothers Malloy.] Paper travels through the press at 1,000 feet per minute, producing over 10,000 32-page signatures per hour.

Figure 2: Pages of a reprint of Alexander Hamilton: Writings. Most publishers save money in the printing and binding process by arranging the pages on the sheet perpendicular to the direction that the roll of paper travels through the press. The Library of America requires that the pages be printed in the direction of the paper’s grain. “Printing with the grain” keeps the binding from crackling when the book is opened (you can actually hear the difference), ensures the durability of the binding, and allows the book to lie completely flat.

Figure 3: Unlike most books published today, Library of America volumes bend all the way back without cracking the spine or endangering the binding. Series volumes feature Smyth-sewn binding, the most durable—and the most expensive—commercial process available. In addition, two pieces of material are added to reinforce the spine of each book. If you bend a book all the way back, you’ll see the piece of “crash” (a gray, heavy-duty Kraft paper). Hidden underneath the crash is a wrap of “super,” an extremely strong and very flexible open-mesh fabric affixed with adhesive to the front and back case, to the endsheets, and to the sewn-together signatures. Note how the edges of signatures stay perfectly aligned while the cloth of the spine bends in an optimal “semi-round” shape.

Combined, these high-quality processes give the spine maximum flexibility, keep the sewn signatures from separating, and help the book lie flat. For more information about LOA book specifications, see the LOA website.

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