The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 12, Number 5
Jul 1988

Paper and Binding Quality of Latin American Books

by Mark L. Grover
Lee Library, Brigham Young University

Books and their place of origin are often identified by their physical condition. Books published in Latin America are often recognized by poor paper quality and weak bindings. Although there have been occasional preservation studies that have included a limited number of books from Latin America, there has never been any study that systematically examined the quality of paper and bindings of books published in Latin America. The following is a summary of a study of paper quality and binding conditions of university level books published in Latin America.

The study involved the examination of a random sample of publications received at Brigham Young University from Latin America between September 1983 and August 1984. Most books received from Latin America during this time were placed in a holding area arranged by acquisition date, because of a cataloging backlog. The majority were from the humanities and social sciences, and were of interest to the college-educated person. Four hundred fifty-eight monographs (18%) were randomly selected from a total of 2,612 books from most of the Latin American countries. This total did not include books from the English-speaking Caribbean or Bolivia, which were being catalogued on receipt at that time. Each book in the sample was tested and analyzed for paper acidity and presence of groundwood, and the condition of its binding was recorded.

Groundwood And Acidity In The Paper

The indicators used were aluminon to detect the presence of alum; phloroglucinol for groundwood, and bromcresol green and chlorophenol red for pH. A total of 59.4% of the books tested were positive for alum. The following table indicates the results of the other two tests.

Presence Of Groundwood & Degree Of Acidity In Book Papers


No. of Books

Groundwood Content -

pH of Groundwood-Free Papers

< 5.4



> 6.7

Argentina 102 25 38 25 14 0
Brazil 121 1 112 5 1 2
Central America 28 11 17 0 0 0
Chile 5 0 4 1 0 0
Colombia 24 8 14 1 0 1
Ecuador 16 7 9 0 0 0
Mexico 64 9 43 7 3 2
Paraguay 6 0 6 0 0 0
Peru 20 6 12 1 1 0
Uruguay 37 1 28 4 2 2
Venezuela 21 11 1 2 0 35

The use of paper with groundwood present varies significantly from country to country. Economically weak countries with less developed publishing industries produced a

higher percentage of books with paper containing groundwood. Venezuela, which has an active publishing industry, is a significant exception, since it has the highest percentage of books with groundwood in the paper.

Brazilian publications had a very low percentage of groundwood-containing paper; however, when the pH in the remaining books were examined, the use of acid paper was still a significant problem for a country with an important and highly developed publishing industry. Argentina had the lowest percentage of books published on acid paper, even though that number was still over 60% of the total surveyed. A full 100% of the books from Ecuador, Paraguay and the countries of Central America had a pH level of below 5.4.


The length of books published in Latin America significantly affects the type of binding used, since most of the books tend to be shorter than those found in more economically developed areas of the world. Latin America also has a tradition of fine private binding; consequently most books are published in temporary bindings, which though culturally acceptable in Latin America, cause problems in the hardcover world of United States libraries. Only 15 books, or 3% of the sample, had rigid covers.

A more serious problem of binding was in the method of leaf attachment and glue condition. Two hundred and eight, almost 45%, were attached by being sewn or stapled through the fold and 214 had adhesive bindings. Brazil (65%) and Uruguay (51%) had the highest percentage of sewn attachments. Central America (72%), Colombia (79%) and Peru (68%) had the highest percentage of adhesive binding.

A full one third of the books with adhesive bindings displayed problems of glue cracking, leaves improperly glued, spines falling apart or other difficulties that would require immediate preservation attention.

The final area examined was that of gutter margin. Only 74% of the sample had gutter margin widths of 1.3 cm or more (5/8 inch).


Even though some Latin American countries have highly developed publishing industries, one area not seriously affected has been the type of paper utilized in published books. Binding quality continues to be a concern though not to the degree it has been in the past. Binding quality has improved over the past few years and maintenance of Latin American books has become easier.

The one obvious result of the study was to indicate the need for those interested in Latin American books to become involved in efforts to influence publishing companies to change publishing traditions, especially in the area of paper quality. Latin American librarians need to make the industry aware of the availability of and importance of using acid-free paper for publications that will become significant parts of Latin American library collections.

A more extensive report of the study will be published in the proceedings of the Thirty-Second Annual Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) held in May 1987 in Miami, Florida, which may appear near the end of 1988. It can be ordered from SALALM Secretariat, Attn: Suzanne Hodgman, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706.

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