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. 

13 thoughts on “A Story in Numbers

  • August 29, 2006 at 11:00 am

    The federal government has a program that rewards triple to those who point out overcharges and fraud against them.

    The library would save money just by awarding a year’s salary to those who’ve pointed out their own financial (if not philosophical) indiscretions.

  • August 29, 2006 at 11:10 am

    We had the identical problem several years ago, so we abandoned the idea of free printing. We kept the cost very low (just enough to recover our own costs, and we recalculate that on a regular basis). We had a couple of months of complaints from students who were used to free printing, but then it settled down. We encourage people to download what they need to a floppy disc and take it with them if they want to avoid paying to print on our printers. That seems to satisfy most people and we’re no longer wasting huge amounts of paper.

  • August 29, 2006 at 11:24 am

    I share the printing angst. At the college where I work, we do not charge for printing – at all. The waste of paper is absolutely staggering. Students (and others) tend to print out entire books, then dig through their printouts to find the one or two relevant pages and leave the rest strewn across the library. Yesterday, somebody printed a 500 page document and never came to pick it up. The library is by far the winner of the pages printed contest at the college – and the administration tends to become annoyed at the cost. I agree with T. Scott that some sort of charge back system is the only way for people to actually stop and think about printing only what they need to print. Printing is the bane of my existence (ok just one of the many)!!!!!

  • August 29, 2006 at 11:39 am

    At Baruch College (New York, NY), we have what I think is a pretty good system for our library (and the rest of the campus). We limit students to 1000 sheets per semester (the summer session limits them to 300 sheets). Every time a student is in the library or in a lab anywhere on campus, they are prompted to type in a user ID and password to retrieve their print jobs, thereby debiting their individual printing accounts. Roughly 6% of the tech fee that students pay is set aside to help fund the student printing system (a full report of how tech fee money is divvied up can be found at http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/bctc/policy/techreport05.htm)

  • August 29, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    The university where I went to grad school solved this by having two printers – one that was free and one that cost money to use. The free printer was an old dot matrix behemoth that printed onto form feed paper. It was cheap to run because the ribbons were cheap and it didn’t break down. The fee-based printer was a very nice laser jet. Charges for that printer were set at a cost recovery level and they used print management software to deal with it. If you made a mistake and sent your job to the fee-based printer, you just deleted the job from the release station with no harm done.

    The free printer was usually used for drafts, articles, abstracts and the like. The fee-based printer was used for assignments, resumes, cover letters, etc. It worked very well when I was at school – and I’m told that it still works well today. Maybe something similar would work for you?

  • August 29, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    You know where I am at, so it is the same. Free printing and tons of wasted paper. It is pretty much something that concerns some of the librarians, but as long as the “powers that be” feel a need to be free no matter what, nothing is ever going to change. Implementing print control would be possible and feasible. Getting it past the head honcho, well, remember that parable about the rich man, a camel and the eye of a needle?

    I honestly don’t get the deal. Where I used to work at before here, we had print control with students having a quota of how much they could print (paid by their fees). 750 copies was in that ballpark, and it worked fine. Students do and will adapt to any measure that means less waste. We just need for someone at the high levels to actually get some spine and decide that unaccounted waste is not acceptable. After all, we do have significant money troubles, which they never tire of telling us, but I better quit while I am ahead. Best, and keep on blogging.

  • August 29, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    The actual cost of printing is much more in the toner than in the paper. So you can multiply that number by about 3, I think.

    I’ll write up our saga of printing on my blog later today or tomorrow.

  • August 29, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    My library has instituted a policy just as you describe…printing is “free” but you are limited to 60 pages of printing per semester. It has worked beyond our expectations and our printing is completely under control.

  • August 29, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Our campus limits printing to 300 pages, free, per semester, and then you pay ten cents per page for each sheet past that, billed to your student account. Service points don’t have to justify their policy — it’s campuswide — and no money changes hands except when students pay their bills to the Bursar. It works really well for us, and students don’t complain — they’re told they get 600 free pages each year, and they like that.

  • August 29, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    Simmons is another one with a campus-wide policy. We get 300 pages free a semester. Print jobs are trapped by a print management system, and to print you have to select your job and swipe your ID, and that amount is pages is deducted from your page-balance (that part is conducted in actual money, I think the charge is $0.07/page. If you run out before the end of the semester, you have to pay for any remaining printing.

    It works really well, as we found this summer session when all printing was free and unmonitored while the system is changed over. I work in the computer lab for the library school, and I have never seen so many abandoned printouts or full recycle bins.

  • August 30, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    You would never find me in a library in college so I couldn’t tell you how it worked. I did any printing I had to do from the computer lab where you were given a quota for the semester. Color copies counted something like 5 pages. But I never once came close to hitting my quota. Just knowing it was there kept people from wasting a printout. Even if the quota was a huge number they made sure they had it right before printing.

    That being said, what is needed is a change in the culture. The students are half way there these days, they just need some encouragement from the professors. However, the professors are the dinosaurs caught back in the paper days. They can post all class assignments and other information on a class website. Students can turn in assignments through e-mail or disk. Then there is never a reason to turn in homework. But we all know that is not going to happen soon.

  • September 1, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    I’m a little late to this one, but we had the same problem at MPOW for a long time. Huge amount of waste by our students and community users. Printing is now done through a swipe card system. Students can print 125 pages free per semester (kinda low) and then pay 6 cents per page. Community users (anyone not affiliated) has to buy a card and pay 6 cents a page.

    This pretty much eliminated the huge amount of wasted paper and toner. All of the money goes to college-wide printing services but they supply us with paper and toner.

  • September 5, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Yes, we have the same problem of wasteful free printing here at MPOW as well. But really irks me is that we don’t have a system in place to prevent community members from taking advantage of the free printing we offer our students and faculty. Consequently, word has gotten around our consortium, and students come from other schools who charge and do their printing here for free!

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