Hardback, paperback, trade binding, library binding, sewn, stitched, stapled, glued, shish kabobed. There are so many different options for buying books it starts to feel like a Dr. Seuss narration.
Does it matter? Between a hardback book and a library bound book, is there really enough of a difference to justify the cost? Why did my publisher rep grimace when I told her I bought books for my library on Amazon?
These aren't exactly questions that are answered in library school, and when it comes from a publisher representative, it sounds like a gimmick. Even so, I hope you'll hear me out (because even I had to look it all up when I got into this). Library binding DOES matter, and the fact that all of our publishers' books are library bound IS important. And I'm going to give you more than enough information to explain why, but here's the gist:
Basically, for libraries, book binding comes down to two main groups: trade binding and library binding.
Trade binding is made of whatever gets the books into customer hands fastest. Paperback or hardback, the materials and glue are going to be whatever quality is available at the moment. This means that they are designed to be sold, not kept. They don't hold up against time, hundreds of patrons, or children.
Typically, these books are glued, not sewn. You may have heard the term 'perfect binding,' which is a type of book binding with glue. Your trade paperbacks will be bound with perfect binding.
Here's how it works:
A book is comprised of 'signatures,' folded sections of the book. The signatures are glued together.
In a trade paperback, the folded ends of the signatures are then cut off to form a flat surface for the spine. This makes it so that each page in the book is individually glued to the spine.
If you've ever had a book where the individual pages or large sections start falling out, it's because the book was glued together.
Now, not all trade binding is glued. Some are sewn, which is when the signatures of a book are sewn together rather than glued. Sewn bindings retain the shape and flexibility of the spine because the outer case/cover of the book is not directly connected to the signatures the way it is with glued bindings - no more spine creases! Pages are also far less likely to fall out when the binding gets weak.
Library binding is much more than sewn binding, though. All library bound books are sewn, but not all sewn books are library bound. To be considered 'library bound,' a book must meet a set of standards set by the American National Standard for Library Binding. The specifications were first established in 1923, and to this day, only certified binders can call their books library bound.
Library bound books are, simply put, designed to handle the demands of a library. They're built to weather the storm of a thousand eager children, the beating of a thousand book drops, and those people who read their books like this:
At conferences, we like to open our books up all the way so that the front and the back cover touch, and the look on people's faces is always priceless.
I saw someone slapped for doing that! And that reaction is exactly why we do it. We do it to show that library books are not something you should have to treat like a porcelain doll. Your patrons aren't going to treat them that way, so why should we? We open the book up to show you the stitching - that the pages aren't going to fall out because someone opened the book one too many times. These books are not going to fall apart on you. I promise. In fact, all of our library bound books are guaranteed for LIFE. If there's any problem with the binding at any time, we will replace it for you.
In a nutshell, library bound books are better than sewn trade bound books, and sewn trade bound books are better than glued trade bound books.
Glued < Sewn < Library Bound
For more information, here's a video on easy ways to tell if your books are glued or sewn together:
And here's a link with a lot more information about library binding and why it's superior: