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Printing predicaments

BY TAYLOR CASEY | FEBRUARY 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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Numerous unsuccessful print jobs. Thousands of pages lost. Trees killed, and money wasted.

Like anyone else who has ever attempted to print in the Main Library, I have found these hassles infuriating. I started writing this column with the intent to attack the Main Library and the person responsible for buying such god-awful printers. However, after much research, I realized it wasn’t the fault of the Main Library and its printers.

No, the real problem lies out of the librarians’ hands — and is a little more complex than I would have guessed.

I thought it would be in the best interest of the UI campus as a whole, and anyone who has ever endured the frequent struggle of printing her or his 20-page research paper minutes before it is due (while undergoing a slight panic attack), to enlighten students on the real problems behind printer frustrations.

First, for those who find 99.9 percent of their printing problems at the Main Library and avoid printing there at all costs: Lay off. The library is not at fault; it just happens to be one of the biggest and most frequented facilities on campus.

Second, for those who’d like to blame the people held accountable for purchasing printers that are “inadequate” for the job: The problem doesn’t lie there, either. Chris Clark, manager at the Information Technology Services’ Learning Spaces Technology, enlightened me on the logistics behind the printers purchased and how up-to-date they actually are.

While there may only be nine printers in the Main Library, each fully outfitted Dell 5350 printer, which costs around $2,000 a pop (including warranty, extra paper trays, stand, etc.), prints at a rate of 50 pages per minute and around 200,000 pages per month.

“They were not only the most cost-effective, but they were the best performers,” Clark said.

In addition, to those who have angrily sought out librarians at the circulation desk: Be nice. It’s not their fault, either. Clark says his department has often increased staff availability in the first month of the school year — when the largest number of issues occur — to help fix problems before more build up.

“We do everything we can to try to find the root of the problem,” he said.

The major source of the problem has to do with the type of files being printed. When teachers and faculty upload files for students to download, many times they are in PDF.

“There are a variety of ways a PDF can be created,” Clark said. “When PDFs are created and not optimized for printing … problems happen.”

It might take upward of 20 minutes, it might not print at all, or it just plain gets stuck, backing up everyone else’s printing job along with it.

While there certainly isn’t a quick and easy solution to this problem, Clark recommended that students who see a printer not working properly go to a different zone. That’s the beauty of having a print release system, which gives students the opportunity to cancel their job and go somewhere else. Printing from one that is waiting on a sub-optimal PDF is only going to further increase the backup.

In addition, Clark acknowledged that technology training for faculty and staff on how to create the right PDF for specific purposes would be ideal, too. Currently, IT staff are working with Adobe to see if they can do something to make it easier for users to optimize PDFs for printing.

“We’re not the only university with this issue,” Clark said.

Other schools, including Indiana University and the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, endure the same printing process — however, it’s 10 cents per page. Consider yourselves lucky, UI students.

Next time you encounter a printing problem at the library, hopefully, you’ll remember some of these tips. And if you find yourself like me, minutes before a large assignment is due and stuck behind someone whose teacher is unable to create a PDF correctly …

Take a deep breath, cancel your print job before releasing, and go somewhere else.


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