The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it takes a bookbinder to get the message out. At Optic Bindery in Glen Burnie, more than 200 million books a year are bound and delivered to customers across the country.

Founded in 1900 by Joseph Kinlein, Optic's huge plant is a repository for the technology of bookbinding developed over the past few hundred years. In one corner of the 116,000 square-foot facility, two elderly gentlemen still work page by page, pasting and hand-stitching custom-bound volumes for high-ticket book lovers. An antique manually-operated press stands sentinel in another. Battered old tables, showing the craftsmanship of another time, contain the miscellaneous nuts, bolts and hardware that keep today's machinery running. Elsewhere, nearly every time-tested innovation in automatic bookbinding since the turn of the century has a place and a practitioner.

"Our family tradition has been to keep pace," says company President Bart Kinlein. "We plan to keep pace by increasing substantially the production of loose-leaf ring binders." The bookbinding business in general has suffered in recent years because of the explosion of electronic media and skyrocketing costs of production. But Optic Bindery has managed to prosper, mainly because of its decision to get involved in loose-leaf binders.

"Bookbinding is in our blood," concurs 27-year-old David Kinlein, the most recent addition to Optic's management. "But the old sources of profit were drying up. The loose-leaf division is spearheading our growth, expanding 65 percent annually. The other divisions are really static or shrinking somewhat. The whole increase that you see is from the loose-leaf division.

"We were expanding geographically," he adds, "and were doing really well in Connecticut and as far west as Ohio. But the rise in freight costs has forced us to pull back." Before the advent of its loose-leaf binder division, most of Optic's increasing sales had come not from growing demand, but from accepting orders well outside the Baltimore-Washington corridor. "Now our sales area stretches from New York to Richmond," Kinlein says. ptic Bindery was judged a commercial success over a decade ago when it became the second business in Anne Arundel County to secure Industrial Revenue Bond financing for expansion. In 1968 sales totaled about $1 million. Last year the company topped $7 million in sales, and expects to hit $9 million this year. By 1985, Kinlein says, with emphasis on the loose-leaf binders division, sales should hit $25 million.

"The economics of book manufacturing, with the price of paper climbing and high transportation costs, has made us look more closely at the market," explains Bart Kinlein. Mounting costs also led to a decision a dozen years ago to move the plant to Glen Burnie--well suited to Optic's Baltimore and Washington markets--and start anew with 75 employes. "In these 12 years," Kinlein says, "we have tripled our work force and realized a growth of 700 percent in sales."

Dave Kinlein, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology--"the Harvard of printing management"--remembers the decision to become heavily involved in ring binders, which coincided with his first summer at the plant in 1975. According to his father, "The need to keep information current has led to extensive use of loose-leaf binders. Changes or additions can be made a page at a time, saving on postage and manufacturing costs."

This year, the younger Kinlein predicts, "using about one-fifth of our employes, we'll turn out over 100,000 plastic ring binders which will produce much of the corporation's profits." The surge in ring binder popularity will make Optic Bindery "a significant force in the market," he adds.

Among the customers whose books and binders roll off Optic's machinery are Congressional Quarterly publications, American Medical Association books, Cal-Q-Tax texts authored by the Bureau of National Affairs, Washington's largest publisher, and top-secret volumes ordered by various federal intelligence agencies.

In 1978 Optic was awarded a contract for the binding of some 50 million copies of the Sunday New York Times magazine each year. The work week begins with the delivery of 40 tractor trailer loads of printed materials. By Friday, the load leaves as about 1.65 million bound copies for distribution around the world. ecently, the Kinleins invested in their own printing press, a decision once again prompted by rising delivery costs. "Now we have the total operation," explains Dave Kinlein, "from typesetting to the final product. It puts us a position to be able to guarantee delivery dates because we can control production." Kinlein characterized the new venture as "successful."

Throughout the manufacturing plant, a major effort to recycle as much waste paper and vinyl trimmings from the ring binder operations is evident. Huge bins of cardboard, newsprint and plastic stand ready to receive the excess. It's another way, Kinlein says, "to cut costs."

Despite the low return from such operations as producing handmade leather volumes and binding limited edition medical and legal texts, Kinlein has no intention of turning his back on these time-honored bookbinding operations. Ring binders and loose-leaf manuscripts are bringing in enough new customers and fresh capital to support the less profitable operations.

"Business is so prolific that we have even taken on a national sales manager," he says.