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. 

The Price Is Too High

An issue that affects all libraries, big and small, is the exponential increase in journal prices over the last decade. It is no secret that Elsevier is seen as one of the worst publishers in terms of raising their prices beyond what seems rational. This price inflation hurts everyone.

Though not an entirely new action, it is always a bit shocking when the entire board of a journal resigns in protest.

–Jane, wonders if it even made a dent

Who Makes Policies?

Discussing policies in libraries is always an interesting endeavour. Usually, we discuss the ways in which we make policies, meant for the good, that harm our patrons. A library makes many other policies which affect staff, and can eventually affect users, in ways that can be even more damaging than a wayward food and drink or fines policy. There are three main ways that bad policies are born: they spring forth with much thought but are never revisited (though it is obvious to most that it was faulty from the beginning or has become so over time), they are created as reactions to one incident, or they spring forth from the mind of a single person, without consultation or knowledge of how this policy might effect the organization. I am going to talk about the latter.

This person always means well. They want something to happen, some action to be standardized, to make the institution a better place on the inside and for the institution to be perceived well on the outside. They make a flaw along the way, however, which results in either the total breakdown of the policy or the policy being rigorously enforced in a population that has become unruly. The flaw they make is to not solicit advice or to create a committee to discuss the ramifications of a policy.

Regardless of size or structure, oligarchy or democracy, it is never a good idea for one person to mandate policy with no guidance from the minions below. When this kind of mandation occurs, the peasants erupt and eventually the king loses his head. This beheading is easily avoided by simply asking people what they think and then listening to the words coming out of their mouths in a thoughtful manner. A single question and concerned listening are sometimes all it takes to tip the scales in the direction of a policy.

The concerns of the masses have to be taken with great weight. The masses are the ones that must understand and enforce the policy. It must make sense to them or they will be ambivalent or hostile, depending on the amount of pressure from above. If a large number of your very intelligent staff is grousing loudly about a policy, dismissing them out of hand or coming up with some inane excuse for their behavior is a very bad idea. Remember that these are people that you think are smart and thoughtful. Why would they consider this particular policy faulty? When you asked them, did you actually listen and try to understand? Are there tangible ways that their concerns can be addressed?

If a policy is created, by a committee of one, and is then rigorously enforced in an organization, regardless of valid concerns shown by the other members from all levels of the structure, resentment and breakdown will occur. It is inevitable. There should never, ever be one person, regardless of rank, making decisions without thought for other members’ concerns. What will result is on ongoing, ugly battle which causes members or staff to lose heart which in turn will affect both their output and their service to users.

I know that leaders must often make tough decision. That is what leaders are created for and asked to do, but a good leader, a fine leader, makes decisions after they have listened to many people whom that decision will affect.

This post is not the reaction to any one instance or ongoing battle. It is just something that has been rolling around in my head. I am a lowly peasant who hates mandates being given to me. I have a big mouth and a lot of opinions and I expect my leaders to listen to me. I can point to numerous situations in which the policy was given on high, in my life, professional organizations, and even in MOPW. Policy mandating happens, sometimes regardless of good intentions, but we should be aware when it is happening and strive to curtail its negative effects.

If you are a higher up, with power, in an organization, use your power for good and not evil. Listen to people and try to understand. We just want to have a say.

–Jane, this blog is the only place she gets the final say

Academic Librarians of the Night

In the past year, and I know it is not a new topic, there has been much discussion over involvement in ALA and other professional organizations and the myriad of reasons why speakers end up as speakers. Just a couple of days ago, the Liminal Librarian had some nice thoughts which promoted me to get this draft out of the not ready yet box. Dorothea, in writing about conferences recently, discussed the two types of conference speakers, people who get paid and people out for whuffie, name recognition of sorts.

The thing that always comes to my mind regarding speaking at conferences is something that Dorothea barely touches upon. There is the general complaint that many of the speakers are academic librarians, but we are the ones who have the most access to funding, though not always much, and we are the ones who have to have whuffie to pass our reviews, get tenure, and keep our jobs. This process makes academic librarians, in many cases, much like paid whores, only we do not get paid.

For many of us, we need a collection of things to pass tenure. We must be involved on a national level in something that enhances the profession. We must write meaningful things that other people will read and that are so profound, we might be asked to give an actual presentation down the line. We must also serve our home campus and library on mindless committees which suck the time out of your day and sometimes the life out of your job.

This is, of course, a very pessimistic view. Some academic librarians have it worse than others, the process tends to vary, but some aspect of the above items is needed to keep your job beyond about three years. This means that we are desperate to be asked to speak, to get our article published, and to get appointed to an ALA committee. Sometimes these things are easy, sometimes it is who you know, and sometimes you are just SOL. Thus we run around, begging for attention, essentially whoring ourselves out to anyone who will take us, so we can pass our reviews, keep our jobs, and put food on the table.

I am lucky and actually like the committee and interest group of which I am a member. I have been lucky enough to have some good opportunities come my way. The only thing I have left to do is sucker someone into letting me have a microphone for a small expanse of time. Karaoke anyone?

However, I still feel like I can not say no to things and that this pressure to perform leaves me with no bargaining power. How can I advocate in a meaningful way to be paid for my time when I am trying to procure something I need so badly I will do anything to get it. (well, within reason) I can not refuse speaking at ALA, TLA, or whatever if they will not pay me because I have to do it to keep my job. I have no power to assess myself worth and charge accordingly. Thus, I become a lady of the night with no limits and no economy will change my value, because I have none.

This is a hard reality for new librarians to face.

I am not saying that our tenure process sucks, but it does and not just for librarians. Any process by which you are promoted based largely on how many people recognize your name as opposed to how well you actually teach the next generation is a faulty system in my mind. In fact, my campus community just adopted this brilliant plan for evaluating professors. Can’t teach? Who cares!?

–Jane, I care

Do not ask what you can do for your library…

Sometimes I wonder about the people that are steering the boat. Sometimes I am a happy sailor and sometimes I am grumbling as I take my turn at the oar. (I am just full of the metaphors today) My friend, eprahs, points out one of the many insane things that happen in academic libraries.

In the caste system that is an academic library, it becomes clear that one is compensated not for the job they do within the institution, but for the professional reputation they achieve outside the institution… Taken to its extreme, it makes perfect sense that the person at MPOW that does the least and has the fewest responsibilities is perceived as being at the pinnacle of scholarly achievement.

Ah, academia. The sweet smell of tenure and continuing appointment that says, “Hey, you wrote that important paper years ago and you have earned the right to get paid to sit on your arse for the rest of your unnaturally long life.”

–Jane, too young to rest upon undeserved laurels

The Celery Stalks at Midnight

After much debate and gnashing of teeth, I have decided that the best way to get my faculty to respond to me is good old fashioned stalking. Therefore, for the next three or four days, I have going to lurk around the department at different hours to try to catch faculty in their native habitat.

–Jane, where is Bungalow Bill when you need him?

updated: link to book referenced in post title for the uninformed

HigherEd BlogCon – Coming Soon

I am working on a great new project with Meredith Farkas called HigherEd BlogCon, a conference to be held all online, which will examine the uses and effects of technology on higher education. At this moment, the wiki (which the link above takes you to) is our planning area and general work in progress.

Meredith and I will be working on the Library and Information Resources Section, but other areas include faculty blogging, web sites and web development, student life, PR marketing and development, and teaching. The call for papers and presenters will go out soon, so keep your eyes and ears open. I love two things about this project:

  1. I think it is a good thing (and about time) that multiple people from different backgrounds and campus situations, sit down and talk about how technology is effecting how we educate our society.
  2. It is fabulous that we are using the technology to talk about the technology! We are planning on a wiki and the conference will be on a blog. That is just cool.

If you want more information, you can visit our planning site or Meredith’s post about the conference. Suggestions and discussion are welcome.

–Jane, hears the Coors Lite “wingman” commercial song in my head now