December 2, 2008

Free printing in dorms discontinued after surge in student print-outs

Housing and Dining Services will discontinue printing in residence halls until spring quarter, according to Richard Mason, director of operations and communications for housing and dining services, in an e-mail to House System residents last week.

Residence halls will resume their pay-for-print system when they launch a new unified campus printing network, which would centralize printing between the libraries, residence halls, and NSIT clusters, expected in the beginning of spring quarter.

Dorms offered free printing for residents at the beginning of the quarter after Chopin, the University’s online directory for residence halls, broke down at the end of last year.

“Within the first three weeks of this quarter we saw unprecedented usage of the residence hall printing system,” Mason said in the e-mail. “232,000 pages were printed in three weeks compared to 625,000 pages for the entirety of last year.”

Mason said he hadn’t anticipated the size of the printing surge.

“Whenever you offer something for free that wasn’t free before, you expect an increase,” Mason said in an interview. “But on average about 200,000 sheets were printed per quarter last year, and we didn’t think it was going to be four times that quarterly amount. Right now it looks like 800,000 pages will be printed by the end of the quarter.”

Second-year Katia Chaterji used the residence hall printers sparingly during her first year in Max Palevsky East, but due to the combination of free printing availability in the dorms and the reading-intensive classes she has taken this quarter, she has printed 100 to 150 pages per week throughout the fall.

“It’s really tedious to read everything online,” Chaterji said. “But I’ll probably go back to doing that next quarter.”

While some peer institutions such as Duke University offer free printing across their campuses, most have some kind of pay-for-print system. Others, like Dartmouth College and Columbia University, offer a base number of free pages per week or per term, beyond which a pay-for-print system applies.

Mason said alternatives to paying per page may be possible in the future, but such options would have to be revenue-neutral.

“The overall goal is to provide a service that is self-supporting,” Mason said. “It’s not supposed to be a revenue generator, and it’s not necessarily supposed to be subsidized either.”

To find a company to set up and administer the unified system, the University sent requests for proposals to six vendors of print management systems. Vendors’ proposals, due on December 11, will help determine information such as the price per page and the number of new printers that can be purchased.

For the library system, the latter issue is of particular interest.

“The idea is that the equipment throughout the library would be all new,” said Jim Vaughan, assistant director for access and facilities at the Regenstein Library. “Our current equipment is about seven years old, so tentatively, it would be much more state of the art.”

While the unified system would centralize printing, separate departments and schools would not be required to subscribe to the new system, according to Emily Baker, NSIT’s director of assistive technologies and learning environments.

However, Baker wants to keep the option open for departments and schools to join the unified system.

“One feature we hope will be possible when looking for vendors for the print service is that it would be scalable and extendable,” she said. “We would be the guinea pig unit that would take it up first, so we’ll experience all the glitches and headaches as system rolls out.”

Baker thinks some departments are likely to keep their current systems. For example, the Computer Science Department has never been interested in adopting a pay-for-print system for its MacLab, Baker said.

“Print management itself is an expense, so until your paper and toner budget are killing you, it sometimes is actually more difficult to implement a pay-for-print system,” Baker said.

Despite the projected spring 2009 launch date, Vaughan hopes the library will be phased into the unified system more gradually than the residence halls and NSIT. Making the transition in spring might interfere with the library’s contract with CopyCo, the company that manages their printing service, because the contract ends with the academic year.

“Obviously, the ideal is to have everything under the same system as soon as possible,” Vaughan said. “But because it would be disruptive to do that some time in the quarter, the library is very much wanting to wait until the summer.”

For restoring printing to the residence halls, however, Mason hopes the launch date will remain firm.

“Obviously a lot of things still need to be done, but things need set to be up as quickly as possible,” he said.