A Story in Numbers

And a story about printing in the library

Once upon a time there was a library that received a dedicated fee from its 35,000 student body in exchange for good service, computers, and free printing. After some years, it was obvious to all the librarians that worked on the reference desk that the amount of paper being used was astronomical. Unfortunately, they had no way to find out exactly how much was being printed and wasted, but the recycle bins always seemed to be full.

The administration of the library was dedicated to offering free printing as a service, so the reference staff looked around for other ways to save paper. Eventually they installed a print management system that required the students to release each of their jobs (or their jobs as a group) at a print station, thus ensuring, they hoped, that all jobs printed would be wanted jobs.

There were a few bugs along the way, but this new system was also able to count how many pages were actually being printed every day. In the first four days of school, 420,000 pages were printed on our 250 computers. That is 105,000 pages a day. The other labs on campus printed a total of 35,000 in those 4 days. The library is not the main computing facility on campus, but it was the only one with free printing.

Librarians were happy to walk around and see less waste sitting around the printers, but 105,000 pages per day is a lot of paper. That is 3 pages for every student every day, which seems to be not unreasonable. But when you add money to the equation, the story becomes different.

The money is the real moral of this story.

If you suppose that a box of paper holds 5,000 pages and each box costs $20. You can assume that the library gets a price break and we will assume a cost of $15 for our purposes. At 105,000 pages, that is 21 boxes of paper per day, 5 times a week for a total of 105 boxes per week. Now I am leaving off the weekends, but less is printed then and that may make up for the page number resulting from the first few days of classes.

There are roughly 4 weeks in a month, making the total for each month 420 boxes. A semester is 3.5 months long thus 420 x 3.5 equals 1,470 boxes. If each box costs $15 dollars, then the library spends $22,050 every three and a half months on paper for the students. If you calculate that b per year (very scientifically ignoring the fact that summer is slower), then 420 x 12 equals 5,040 boxes. At $15 a box, we are paying $75,600 a year on paper. These calculations do not even take into account printer maintenance and staff time needed to upkeep that level of printing.

This is a library supposedly having money issues. I am concerned about both the waste of paper and the waste of money. If we could simply limit the total amount of paper students could use, then they would not be printing every Power Point Presentation in every class one slide to a sheet, every online textbook they have ever had to use, those flyers for their frats, and any other 100 page document their little heart desires.

Give them a crazy limit, like 750 pages. This is a lot, but it would keep the people who abuse the free printing from doing so because they will have to choose between that 500 page online textbook and those flyers for their next frat party.

And a note about that dedicated fee: The university also decided this year that all fees would be put in a pot and distributed through a complex system of begging. That dedicated fee no longer belongs to the library.

I know this is not a unique situation. Are there any other librarians out there that have found a good solution to this problem?

–Jane, frustrated with the system, anyone got a better?

*Update: Obviously, this is all very scientific***sarcasm*** and should be taken as such.