WEB EXCLUSIVE STORY: Drennan Bookbinding restoring books for 48 years


Photo courtesy of Drennan Bookbinding

Sharen May, owner and operator of Drennan Bookbinding, displays a vintage Bible cover that she restored using traditional methods.

Every summer The Chart sends the previous school year’s editions of the newspaper to Drennan Bookbinding to be bound into hardcover and saved for later generations of Missouri Southern Lions to enjoy. 

Sharen May, who independently owns and operates Drennan Bookbinding, doesn’t just bind The Chart and other area newspapers, but can restore any book that has fallen into disrepair using traditional methods.  In fact, all of the machinery she uses dates from the 1880s to the 1920s.  From the time a book comes into her workshop until the custom binding is complete relies on her technical know-how and personal craftsmanship.  She does everything from cutting pages to stamping gold lettering on the cover.

May said her favorite part of the job is seeing reactions from customers after having a book restored.

“Bibles are always the favorite,” she said.  “I feel good about taking a book that someone loves very much and has fallen apart and putting it back together for them, and putting it back in their ends, so that they can still enjoy it.”  

May has been operating Drennan Bookbinding solo since 2010 but first took an interest in book binding in 2003 when she retired.  Prior, the business was owned by her father Ralph Drennan.

Drennan worked for Joplin Printing Company for 25 years before retiring in 1965.  After three years as a book binding apprentice, he purchased from Joplin Printing Company the six machines necessary to run Drennan Bookbinding and ran it until May took over.

“It’s a good retirement job,” said May.  “It keeps you healthy, it keeps you working and it keeps you interacting with people and mentally focused.

“It kept my dad focused until he was 92, and that speaks well of it.”

Although traditional book binding has become an endangered species with the advent of computers and mass production, May stays busy year round.

“I keep looking for a time when I run out of work but it’s never happened,” she said with a laugh.  “I just never run out of work.

“And this summer I was in the hospital and had surgery and things kind of piled up and jobs kept coming…so sometimes I get as many as 14 to 20 books behind, but eventually I catch up but I never get down to zero!”

She also said that since each book requires such a unique and tedious process, sometimes she might spend up to two weeks working on just one book.

May has a possible apprentice to begin working under her when she retires and to keep traditional book binding alive in Joplin. 

Drennan Bookbinding is located 4897 W. Fountain Road