Re-Binding Books for Jail

Part of my leading seminars at Elmwood Jail (Milpitas, California) is finding study materials for the inmates: journals and pencils as well as dictionaries, prayer books and Bibles. Books going into jail cannot have hard covers since those have the potential to be turned into weapons.  If hardcover books are donated to the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, the covers have to be ripped off before use. Ripping off the cover makes a book more vulnerable to falling apart, especially in the rough and dirty jail environment. So, I figured out an alternative: how to re-bind books using manila folders and a hot glue gun.  Collette Lynner of CIC asked me to teach volunteers at Menlo Church how to repair and re-cover donated books so they would last longer in jail.  Collette and Rié Collett put together 30 volunteers in two teams.  On 28 July 2018, we re-bound 465 Bibles, enough for CIC to distribute in about six months.

This is bookbinding at its most basic – with a focus on low expense and high durability.  This method is not appropriate for valuable volumes but works very well for books that need to last a long time in a hard place.  Here are the steps:

  1. If the book’s back cover is loose, or some sections of printed text (called signatures) are loose, use the hot glue to stick them back together before starting the re-binding.  Running a thin bead of glue into the crack between the signatures will re-attach the book to itself.  Running a wide zigzag of hot glue between the book back (called the case) and the sewn-together paper signatures (called the text block) will attach them firmly together.
    • Hot glue is hot and it is easy to burn yourself. If the glue gets on you, rub it off quickly.
    • Hot glue only stays really hot for about 3 seconds after it leaves the gun – that is how long you have to adjust things before your glue gets too hard.
    • Put the glue on the book, not on the board.
  2. Remove the book boards (sides of the hardcover binding) by cutting carefully along the spine, leaving at least a 1/4″ hinge beyond the fold.  Leaving the spine binding intact protects the book better and keeps the original printing on the spine intact.
  3. Cut pieces of manila folder or heavy paper (about 50 pound card stock) to the size of the removed book boards.  There should be about 1/4″ of card on the sides beyond where the book pages end.
  4. Run a bead of hot glue under the hinge – at the cut edge of the spine – then push the cut pieces of heavy paper into the glue.  If you can do so without touching the glue, push the edges of the spine into the glue.
  5. Trim off any loose threads or extra bits of glue.
  6. Either write the name of the book on the new soft book boards, or use printed labels.

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Image Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson. Thanks to Collette Lynner for her photo of the Bibles in many languages.

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