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Bookbinders Carry On Centuries-old Tradition in a Computer Age

Experts in the art of bookbinding say books still have a place in the age of computerized data storage. An exhibition at California State University, Northridge, celebrates the art and craftsmanship of the centuries-old tradition.

For the book lovers who gathered at the university library for the exhibit opening, modern digital storage devices have little appeal.

German-born Tini Miura is one of the leading bookbinders in the United States. The exhibition includes examples of her work, among other exquisitely bound volumes that date back five centuries. She says books are living things, unlike computer disks.

"If you take pleasure in sensual things, in smells and touch and visual, you cannot do without a book because it snuggles into your palm," said Tini Miura. "It is something warm. It is alive. It has a good shape compared to a cold, mechanical plasticky disk. Books are alive."

Miura's hand-bound books command thousands of dollars as art works.

Other people at this opening got involved in bookbinding as a hobby. Tony Gardner works at the university library and helped assemble the exhibition.

"I am the curator of special collections and I felt that I needed to know about the subject I work with, books, so I wanted to find out how they're made and put together and how you can protect them," said Tony Gardner.

That, he says, got him involved in the art of bookbinding, which he pursues in his spare time.

"I have a bindery in my garage, a small bindery, and I try to bind as frequently as I can, usually on the weekends," he said.

He is now working on a project for the historical society of the California city of San Luis Obispo, rebinding an old ledger.

"And that is very, very interesting," noted Tony Gardner. "It is about 100 years old, and I got to take it apart to see how it was put together. And then I reassembled it and put some new cloth and leather on it."

Professional bookbinder Mark Kirchner, whose works are also on display here, takes commissions from book owners.

"It is a bibliophile, the book-lover [who] might have a cherished volume," said Mark Kirchner. "And so they might have a special book that they really want a better-than-average binding on it."

He says the cost can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the materials and time involved.

He says bookbinders like him continue a venerable tradition.

"The techniques that we are using come right out of, partly the Middle East, and then into Italy in the late 16th century, and then up to us," he said. "So you will see things like hand-sewing of books, hand-gilding, covering in leather. Those are all processes that have come through time."

Bookbinder Tini Miura says she enjoys creating her own designer bindings, but that restoration of old books is probably more important. She says book owners are guardians of treasures that are being preserved for future generations. She is confident that even in our digital age, people will still take pleasure in reading words on the printed page, and that finely crafted books will always have a place in the libraries of readers.