Volume 14 - Autumn 2002


Letters & Feedback


Bookbinding Education & Training

I thought it a good idea to write you an open letter about some of the issues relating to bookbinding education and training. As you know over the last few years 2 major college courses have shut, (Roehampton and Guildford) and the HND in design bookbinding at the LCP is not running this year. The reason is quite simple, not enough people apply and colleges like all institutions have to balance the books. What is more to the point is why bookbinding is not recruiting; I can suggest several reasons for this decline.

The average wage of a bookbinder employed is quite low compared to the salary of a job requiring about the same level of training, and compared to say joining the police (all bookbinders are of course "goodies"), the wages are very poor. I was told that driving a London bus was less satisfying but better paid! And one trained in weeks rather than years. Well, I have no proof of this fact but what is clear is that I know few people who are prepared to pay the sort of charges required to make basic leather bound book. This is defiantly the preserve of the more affluent amongst us.

Of course there are other factors that have had a serious affect on college recruitment. The abolition of college grants for example created the situation where many mature people who were happy enough to learn a skill based craft whilst maybe between jobs or living with a supportive partner but were not prepared to actually invest capital in a "second" occupation. Anyway about half of our HND groups over the years ended up doing binding as a serious hobby rather than as a primary income.

You may have noticed that barring a few exceptions most of our well known binders teach, write books about bookbinding or run Master classes to enhance their income from binding on the bench. Full employment has had an affect on the shift within society on the way occupation and skills are perceived.

The old days of a job for life are gone, when I first left school getting a position in a bank , school or "trade" was considered safe until you retired, now it is not unusual to change direction several times, couple this to the high speed changes in all technologies and certainty and security is diminished. People now need broad transferable skills.

Most craft bookbinding is carried out on a small business basis so employing trainees or apprentices is often too expensive for the average bindery; in any event the hand bound book is hardly an icon of modern culture! Recruitment would be a problem let alone salary.

For the keen amateur there are evening classes at the local college, the Society of Bookbinders to swap ideas and meet other like minded people or Designer Bookbinders for the purists. Both of these bodies organise demonstrations and talks from time to time and even produce videos of top craftspeople working their magic but where can one go now to learn the basic skills?

Now you could enrol on the BA(Hons) Book Arts & Crafts course at the LCP , but this involves 3 years of study and related areas such as printmaking, illustration, photography and the artist book, bookbinding is a core subject area and many do go on to become bookbinders . The problem is not everyone wants to study on a degree for three years, (as Roehampton discovered), just to learn a craft.

One of the few options left is the very technology that is luring people away from craft skills; yes you've guessed it, the computer. I suggest we need a dedicated web-site that outlines basic skills, maybe some form of on-line learning package. Compact discs (& videos) showing bookbinding structures and materials and a distribution process that gets them into libraries and schools. Most of the videos available now are only of interest to people who are already interested, demonstrations of brilliance by individuals, special techniques and advanced methods are always nice to see, but of no use in this instance. If you need an example go to any fishing tackle shop and see the vast range of videos that demonstrate fishing from the start.

Maybe this idea is weak and would not work, but we certainly need to give this problem some thought sooner rather than later! Let me know what you thinků

Mike Brunwin
Senior Bookbinding Lecturer
London College of Printing

P.S. Several people have asked if the bookbinding section has closed at the LCP, well it hasn't. We have moved to the top floor, but every other section has had to rationalise and move house. and the only reason the full-time bookbinding course has not been offered is because not enough people applied for it.


Skin Deep - Volume 14 - Autumn 2002

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