Computers in Libraries, May 1998, v18 n5, 26 -30.
Fee or free? Printing from public workstations
in the library.
Dale J. Vidmar; Marshall A. Berger; Connie J. Anderson.
Abstract: Libraries are struggling with the issue of whether
or not to charge for printing from
public access workstations. Libraries must consider the impact of printing fees on access to
electronic information, the costs of implementation through additional staff attention, and the
savings achieved through no longer subsidizing printing costs.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Information Today, Inc.
Should you charge patrons to print from library computers? If
so, what systems are available for
Over the past few years, libraries have witnessed a proliferation
of printing, especially from
full-text databases and Web sites. At the same time, databases have moved from DOS to
Windows client and Internet environments. Ink-jet and dot-matrix printers, once a staple in
reference areas, are now seen as slow, noisy contraptions incapable of printing images and
materials from the Internet and Windows-based programs. To meet these demands, laser printers
have become more a necessity than a luxury. But satisfying necessity comes at a cost.
The cost of offering free and unlimited laser-generated documents
has caused libraries to examine
whether or not they can subsidize printing. Faced with a fee or free decision, many libraries are
choosing to implement charging. But charging for printing is a serious and quite slippery issue. If a
library can reach a consensus to charge for printing--no small feat in itself--then it must figure out
how to implement a system.
Can Libraries Afford to Subsidize Printing?
Do libraries need to provide free and unlimited printing, or
does charging for printing constitute a
barrier to information? According to Economic Barriers to Information Access--An Interpretation
of the Library Bill of Rights, Principles Governing Fines, Fees, and User Charges, "All library
policies and procedures, particularly those involving fines, fees, or other user charges, should be
scrutinized for potential barriers to access. Charging fees for the use of library collections,
services, programs, or facilities that were purchased with public funds raises barriers to access.
Such fees effectively abridge or deny access for some members of the community because they
reinforce distinctions among users based on their ability and willingness to pay."
Libraries were founded on the idea of making access available
equally to everyone. Charging for
printing raises an important ethical dilemma. Does it create an economic barrier to information?
Not all individuals have the luxury of reaching into their pocket to pay for necessary materials. But
this is an age when materials from databases are reproduced, not borrowed. If charging for a
photocopy does not present a barrier, then why would charging for a printout of a full-text article
or a Web site constitute a barrier? With budgets shrinking, libraries may not have the option to
offer free and unlimited printing.
Although the issue of charging for printing can be argued endlessly
without resolution, thinking of
the issue of charging as "cost recovery" rather than as a new fee can help. The crux of the matter
is that libraries cannot provide the same degree of services and resources if printing continues to
be fully subsidized. Something must be sacrificed so funds will be available. Expressed another
way, what services could libraries enhance if charging for printing were instituted? Could libraries
provide better access to materials by initiating fees for printing from public workstations? If so,
Charging for printing generates additional resources in two ways:
It brings in funds collected
directly from printing charges, and it creates savings from no longer subsidizing free printing.
Funds collected directly from printing defray printing costs. These costs include paper, toner
cartridges, and maintenance of the printers. Also factored in are future replacement
printers--approximately every 3 to 5 years for a large laser printer--based on an estimate of
500,000 pages before a major overhaul or a replacement is necessary. Debit-card readers or
coin-ops also need to be serviced or replaced, and print software must be purchased or updated.
Additionally, the savings generated from no longer subsidizing
free printing translates into potential
funds for enhancing services. Consortium agreements and competition between vendors are
making access to full-text databases more affordable to both small and large institutions.
Purchasing additional citation and full-text databases can better serve the informational needs of
more individuals than offering free and unlimited printing. Increased access could more than
compensate for any potential barrier created by charging and could reasonably justify
implementing a system to charge.
Working Toward a Solution
Once the decision is made to charge for printing, a library must
answer a host of questions
surrounding that decision. How will the money be collected, and who will collect it? Should the
library attempt to initiate an institution-wide, or campus-wide system involving computer centers
and any other computing areas, or should it find a library-only solution! What portion of the
library's resources, will be devoted to a system? Answers to these questions center on, among
other-, things, choosing the appropriate equipment and a mechanism for charging. Following are a
few possibilities to consider.
1. Buy a networked laser printer, set it up in reference, circulation,
or somewhere else, and
charge for all print jobs. Assign someone the responsibility of collecting money from individuals
before they can pick up their print jobs.
* It's simple and inexpensive.
* It's easy to implement.
* Staff needs to handle printing and collection of funds.
* It means extra duties for the area--reference, circulation, or wherever the printers are placed.
* Librarians and/or staff must handle and sort printed documents.
2. Develop programming for each database, directing print jobs
either to a networked laser
printer or a local ink-jet printer depending on the type of database.
* This is a hands-on solution that allows staff direct control of workstations.
* Printing is designed specifically for each database--citation
printing could be routed to a free
printer while full-text or Internet printing could be sent to a printer that charges a fee.
* This method is expensive and time consuming. Programming may
involve the full-time attention
of technical staff.
* When a database is updated, additional programming may be necessary.
* you still must decide how and by whom the money will be collected.
There could be confusion
about which databases are charged and where they print.
3. Install hardware/software are that is compatible with the
library's current copy card system,
assuming there is one.
* There is local control of the system.
* Funds generated from charging remain within the library.
* The automated system handles funds, rather than requiring librarians and/or staff to do so.
* Individuals are already familiar with the copy card system.
* The system Stein works quickly and efficiently once the software are is installed and set up.
* In a campus setting, the accommodates both students and non-students.
* This is a somewhat hat expensive operation. The library needs
to purchase software, card
readers, and a workstation dedicated only to print jobs--the cost is about $2,000 for XCP's
Output Control Software and a card reader (see below). It requires a dedicated print workstation
at an additional cost.
* Print software and print queues must be configured for each
database. The learning curve for
technical staff can be steel), with potentially little Support from the software manufacturer.
* The solution is not a campus-wide one.
4. Install an "off-the-shelf" hardware/ software produce that
automatically charges print jobs to
faculty and student university accounts.
* Such a system stein is efficient and works the same everywhere on campus.
* It is a campus-wide solution.
* It requires no handling of money by the library.
* Organizing the various departments on a campus-wide solution is difficult and time consuming.
* The software is expensive--about $20,000 based on the UnipriNT
Network Printing Cost
Recovery product from IKON Office Solutions (formerly known as CDP Imaging Systems).
* This requires a separate system for individuals not currently
enrolled at the university, and it
does not readily adapt itself to nonacademic libraries.
* Control of the software and the money is outside of the library.
The Move to Laser
As libraries wrestle with the idea of charging for printing,
they must also resolve the problem of
printing materials from Internet sites and from databases using Windows. Although ink-jet printers
could solve the problem, a more elegant solution is a laser printer. Laser printers not only provide
high-quality printing, they are faster and quieter. However, while most libraries might absorb the
cost of purchasing laser printers, they might not be able to afford the luxury of offering unlimited
Initially, laser printing costs may appear higher than ink-jet
and dot-matrix printing costs.
Expenses for a laser printer--including the cost of paper, toner cartridges, and routine
maintenance--average about 4 to 5 cents per page, as compared to 3 to 4 cents per page for an
ink-jet or dot-matrix printer. A single networked laser printer capable of handling 10 or more
workstations can cost as much as $2,500, whereas a single ink-jet printer can cost $250. The
key difference is that a high-volume networked laser printer can handle input from 30 or more
workstations. Even with the slightly higher ongoing costs of supplies, laser printers in a multiuser
environment are actually more cost effective.
Although individuals are encouraged to download or e-mail materials
electronically, hard copy is
typically the preferred format. Laser printers provide the best and most efficient delivery of
hard-copy printing, but the move to laser opens the door to a new set of questions. What kind of
printers should a library buy? How fast do they need to be? How many printers will be needed?
Where will the printers go, and in what configuration? What is the life expectancy of a laser
printer in a high-use environment? From a technician's standpoint, one good rule of thumb to
follow is one large laser printer for every 20 to 40 workstations.
Output Control Software (OCS), by XCP, Inc. While choosing laser
printers represents the first
part of implementing a cost-recovery system, the second part is finding a mechanism for charging.
For a small to medium-sized library, XCP's Output Control Software (OCS) is a good choice.
The OCS software is designed to work either in a DOS or a Windows environment--Windows
3.x or Windows 95. It works on a Novell LAN or an NT LAN. In addition, it functions with
XCP's VendaCard copy card system. Individuals print selected data from their workstation by
choosing the Print option. A job number appears on their screen display. They then go to the print
workstation and type in their number. The OCS software will then display the number of pages
and the cost of the print job. After prompting the individual to insert a VendaCard, the cost of the
print is subtracted--either in units or in denominations like 5 cents--and the print job is run from
the specified printer.
Using the OCS software provides a local/library-only solution
while eliminating the problem of
where to collect the money. Individuals can purchase copy cards at the circulation desk as they
may already do for making photocopies. Also, learning to use the system is relatively simple,
because it is similar to current photocopier systems, and library personnel probably already have
experience working with the hardware supplied by the manufacturer.
The process of loading a network version of the OCS software
on all public terminals and getting
the software to function properly is a difficult step. For technical staff, the installation software
seems less than user-friendly, and documentation from XCP is minimal. In addition, the systems
librarians may be on their own in terms of setting up the software. This makes for a steep learning
curve, but perhaps like most problem-solving, getting the software loaded and running is
rewarding in itself. It's worth noting that the latest OCS release includes improved installation
software and documentation.
The UnipriNT Network Printing Cost Recovery, by IKON Office Solutions.
For a large library
or a library in a university setting seeking an all-campus solution to the problem of printing, the
UnipriNT Network Cost Recovery system by IKON Office Solutions is a good option. The
UnipriNT system works in Windows NT, Novell, UNIX, and most other network environments.
Although the UnipriNT system is significantly more costly than the OCS solution, it offers the
possibility of implementing a system to charge for printing in any computer lab or set of public
workstations anywhere on campus. The software tracks individual print requests in much the
same way as the OCS software. The major difference between the two systems is UnipriNT can
charge a student's account or use a student's ID card to pay for printing. The UnipriNT software
also allows for the use of passwords, so that individuals can batch their print jobs and ensure
To print selected data from a workstation, individuals choose
the Print option from the database.
A UnipriNT pop-up window prompts the individual for a user name, which can be anything the
individual chooses to identify the print job. The next window prompts for a job description to help
differentiate one print job from another. The last window at the workstation prompts for an
optional password to safeguard the print job.
Once these steps are completed, the user goes to a print workstation
to retrieve and print the
selected material. The display at the print workstation indicates the print job by the user name and
job description. If a password exists, a padlock symbol appears next to the print job. To open a
passworded print job, the user must enter the correct password. The last step is to insert a debit
card or a student ID, so that the cost can either be subtracted from the card or charged to the ID
The bottom line for both systems is that they work. Both the
OCS and the UnipriNT software
allow individuals to print material relatively easily and without imposing a barrier. Despite the
inherent difficulty in installing and configuring the software, both offer libraries a mechanism for
implementing cost recovery and a method for controlling printing from public workstations. In
addition, there seems to be very little opposition to paying for printing materials. Having other
options, such as downloading and e-mailing, has eased most complaints or made them seem
Conclusion: Pay the Price
Initiating a fee for printing may solve the problem of excessive
printing from public workstations.
By conserving re sources, it also can allow libraries to possibly increase access to new and
expanding sources of information. Initially, it may seem simple to decide to charge for
printing--especially in light of the amount of printing that libraries are currently subsidizing.
However, reaching a consensus to charge, then figuring out a way to implement a system, is an
arduous task. Making the decision to charge for printing will never be a simple one, nor will it be
an easy process. It will require creativity, communication, flexibility, time, and a good deal of
effort from everyone involved.
Once a cost-recovery system is in place, printing will likely
decrease. Rather than printing hard
copies, individuals may choose to download or e-mail materials electronically. It would be unwise
to project possible income based on past printing. Yet, a majority of individuals are willing to pay
to print for the type of full-text material they once had to either photocopy or print on an
inadequate printer. Consequently, charging for printing will more than likely generate additional
funds to enhance services and improve access to information.
RELATED ARTICLE: Keys to Successful Implementation
Here are some tips on successfully implementing a fee-for-printing system:
* Prepare by researching possible solutions. No library is alone
in grappling with the decision to
charge for printing. Participate pate in a listserv or e-mail to query other institutions to learn how
they are dealing with the problem. Visit other institutions and talk with their systems and reference
librarians. Gather as much information as possible about what other institutions are doing.
* Develop consensus to charge for printing. During discussions
on whether or not the library
should implement a system to charge for printing, all faculty and staff should be encouraged to
exchange their thoughts and opinions. Open discussion generates ideas about how the
pay-for-printing system will be configured and implemented. The decision to charge for printing
may not necessarily be a consensus decision at first, but ultimately it needs to be. The entire
library must Support the decision once a system is in place or it can cause a public relations snafu.
* Communicate intentions to charge for printing. Communication,
not only within the library but
throughout the campus and community, is a key element to success. Early in the process, the
library should meet with other departments on campus or with interested parties in the community
to inform them of the plan to investigate possible systems for charging. Public and campus
relations cannot be stressed enough in the process of implementing a solution.
* Test and evaluate the system prior to implementation. Testing
a pay-for-printing system means
more than setting up the system in a workroom and making certain everything functions. Allow
individuals to use the system in the library prior to actually charging. Testing a system in public
gives the library a chance to smooth out the wrinkles and remove any user-unfriendly procedures
or quirks. An additional benefit of setting up the system first is that it allows individuals time to
adjust to the idea that they will eventually have to pay for printing.
* Allow time to implement a solution. Allowing time for implementing
a system to charge for
printing is not a simple matter. As librarians and staff witness more and more printing from public
workstations, the temptation is to act quickly to stem the tide. However, a rash decision to set up
a system--any system--before the necessary groundwork is laid will likely pave a path to failure.
Give systems librarians and technicians the opportunity to set up the system and understand how
to make it work smoothly. The learning curve can be quite steep in working with current
software. Acting hastily will cost more in the long run than allowing unlimited printing.
* Be flexible. Flexibility is the key to successfully implementing
a print system. Allow the library to
adapt and grow into a solution. A hastily laid plan often spells failure because many individuals are
hesitant to turn back once they Implement a solution. Flexibility allows for ongoing evaluation and
* Work as a team. An effective and efficient system to charge
for printing demands a cooperative
effort from the library staff. One person should not handle the burden alone. From the library
director to each and every staff member, the library should act as a unit to explore, discover, and
implement a system. Allowing adequate time for investigating, testing, and evaluating viable
solutions should ensure successful implementation.
Dale J. Vidmar (Vidmar@sou.edu) is assistant professor and electronic
Marshall A. Berger (Berger@ sou.edu) is user support analyst;
Connie J. Anderson (Anderson@sou.edu) is associate professor and head of public services.
Copyright © 1999, The Gale Group. All rights reserved.
The Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.