Samizdat with Cristina Cerescu

We decided to visit one of the biggest state printing houses in town, and meet Cristina Cerescu, which is the head of production at “Combinatul Poligrafic” from Chișinău.

Combinatul Poligrafic (literally translated as Polygraphic Factory) is one of the three largest typographies in the Republic of Moldova, the other two being Tipografia Centrală (Central Typography) and Universul. It is a state owned printing house and is the oldest one among those mentioned, working for over 75 years. Its main activity is stationery product manufacturing and printing.

Cristina Cerescu started her activity at Combinatul Poligrafic in 1998 as a printing operator in the pre-press department. Here the order was received from the publishing house/client, taken over and passed on for production. She still remembers how stressful it was in the beginning, in contrast to how interesting and fast she learnt to do her job well. Step by step she advanced in her career, managing to become the head of production.

Aside from having a technical degree, which helped her get the job at Combinatul Poligrafic, she recognizes that her athletic background (she has two bachelor degrees, one of them being a sports one) has a positive contribution in her current job. When I asked her what she meant by that, she told me that Combinatul Poligrafic stretches over a wide area, being located between two streets — Petru Movilă and Toma Ciorbă, this way she finds herself running from one building to another, sometimes multiple times a day, to make sure the work is efficiently done. In this sense, she attributes her endurance as a result of daily work activity and sports.

You realise that there is a solution to any problem. There is always a way out and you can solve any situation quickly and efficiently.

However, my assumption was that Combinatul Poligrafic didn’t start its activity during the soviet times and something might have been there earlier than 1945.
Developing this subject with her, she told me that indeed, they recently found some historical data in an archive, which attests the fact that Combinaul Poligrafic didn’t form its base in 1945. It turns out its primary small version was formed around 1918 somewhere on this land, between Petru Movilă and Toma Ciorbă streets, and it was just a small craft workshop where different brochures and probably books were printed. And only later on, in 1945 it became a big factory as we know it today.

Combinatul Poligrafic is state owned entity, therefore we assume that orders you receive are in big volume and are a bit more special. The printing house has a wide range of polygraphic products, school marks registers for national educational institutions, grade tracker, notebooks, folders, albums, diplomas, posters, newspapers, magazines, as well as many other stationery supplies that can be found in local stores and bookstores. Maybe there is something peculiar that you could tell us about the production process of a book?

Yes, we have an advantage as Combinatul Poligrafic — we are the only printing house that prints stationery items — so-called grade trackers, notebooks, diplomas, etc. for scholars. We work with the design, the cover is prepared for each notebook depending on the school grade level, then goes the size, quantity and after, directly to production and distribution. Depending on market requirements, if a particular product was in demand — we double the circulation of that product. Even if the cover page may not have been very appealing, we still need to address the customers’ needs. A circulation of the student’s grade tracker at the beginning of the year starts at 20,000 units. At the end of the year, sales are made and we can print again.

This means you don’t work exclusively with the state. It means that I, as a writer, could potentially come to Combinatul Poligrafic and print my book. Are there certain conditions, a minimum circulation or set of guidance?

We work with the private sector too. To any writer who wants to work with us, we provide necessary estimation in terms of price. It is best for the circulation to be higher, as the price per book becomes cheaper. For example, the circulation of 200 books and up would be reasonable both in price and as a finished product. It doesn’t matter who submits the request, either a physical person or a publishing house, we proceed with the order request. One thing to know, once the books are printed, we pass four copies that include the ISBN (issued by the Book Chamber) from circulation, to four national libraries, including the Central Library. This way anyone can have access to the books and potentially borrow them.

abbreviation for International Standard Book Number: a set of numbers used to identify a particular book and show that it is different from other books.

Source: Cambridge Dictionary

Samizdat team had the chance to get a private excursion at Combinatul Poligrafic, where Mrs. Cerescu showed us the processes that a book undergoes, before it gets on the shelf of a library or bookstore. During our tea discussions, I asked her to briefly tell us the process of book making. Here is what she told us:

Step 1: Production Department
At the beginning, the client or the publishing house submits the order of a certain book to be published. In the Production Department they discuss the book format, the cover type — be it paperback or hardcover. They decide upon the whiteness of the printing paper, how thick or thin it should be, the number of pages and the weight of the book, as well as how many colors it will include. Based on all this information, the necessary calculations are done and the price is set. An important factor plays the number of copies the client or the publishing house wants, because the bigger the order is, the cheaper it will be for the client. This is explained by the fact that Combinatul Poligrafic works with big industrial machines and they take quite some work to be well calibrated, therefore it makes sense to use these machines for a larger number of copies.

Step 2: Paper Department
After the order is taken, the technologist sends the instructions to the Paper Department where the necessary amount of paper is unwound. Combinatul Poligrafic receives their paper from foreign suppliers and it comes in rolls, therefore they need to unroll the paper and cut it in respective dimensions before sending it to the next department.

Step 3: Printing Department
Once the paper is cut, it is lifted to the second floor where the offset section is located. There, each page is printed on both sides using the flat print.

Step 4: Folding Department
After the printing process, the sheets are picked up in the Folding Department where each book is folded individually. A book is formed by a particular number of book signatures and they can have 4 pages, but it can also have 16 pages. It all depends on how large the book itself is. After that, the signatures are sewn together and the block, meaning all the signatures put together, then processed and cut in 3 parts. The ready-made book is inserted in the book case, pressed and adjustments are made.

Step 5: Control Department
The name of this department speaks for itself. It is the department where the books are going through a detailed control and made sure there are no production errors. In the end, all the books are carefully packed and ready to be picked by the client.

I mentioned to her that I was touched by the fact that, during our excursion, we saw a lot of people that were working at the printing house, be that people that are supervising and working with the industrial machines, some working in teams, others performing manual labor. Mrs. Cerescu told me that indeed, the work process is really diverse and the end result depends on workers’ feeling state. She told me that if the workers were in a good mood in the morning, then the whole process would go easy and the final result would be way better than the otherwise. So in that sense, the human factor plays a crucial role in the book publishing industry.

I had to ask her about e-books and she told me that the two are incomparable, as the physical book remains to be a physical object — period. It is a totally different feeling when you hold a book in your hands and you flip through the pages rather than read an e-book.
The digital one of course has the right to be, but she always prefers to go for a physical book.

Recently, after 75 years of activity, people working at Combinatul Poligrafic decided to publish a jubilee book. Historian Dinu Poștarencu helped them select all the materials from the archives that included information about all the printing houses that were formed during recent history, curious facts about some publishing houses, some personal stories and photo archives. It will also contain important data on how and when Combinatul Poligrafic was formed, its activity throughout the years and what challenges it went through. The book has a limited edition of around 200 copies that will be published this year. Two books will go to Biblioteca Națională (the National Library) and to one more library. The online format will be available on the website for all the readers interested in local book printing history.

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