or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Printing Books on Demand

   November 17th, 2009 Brian Herzog

POD Printer at Harvard Book StoreA couple weeks ago I posted about new options for printing books, in which I mentioned Google's Expresso book-on-demand printer. I found out that the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge has one, so I went to check it out.

I still really like this as a source for out-of-print books to fill out a library's collection, so my "test book" was The History of Chelmsford, written by Wilson Waters in 1917. My library has lots of copies of this, but I chose it because:

  • I knew it was in Google Books
  • It is huge (almost 1000 pages) and I wanted to see how well the book-on-demand printer handled it
  • It has text, maps, illustrations and photographs, and I was curious to see how they reproduced

The people at the Harvard Book Store were incredibly nice and informative. I told them who I was and what I was doing, and the owner Jeff and shop assistant Amanda explained each step of the process to me, as well as told me about their experience so far with the service.

Typically, the process (photos) is completely automated and books take less than ten minutes to print start to finish (including download time), and cost $8 (which is the price announced by Google in a press conference, so the store is honoring it). However, since the book I wanted was so long, everything was expanded: downloading alone took five minutes, and it had to be printed in two volumes, because the printer can only handle about 500 pages at a time. Since it had to be divided, Amanda had to find the best place to split the book, and then do some quick calculations to figure out how thick each textblock would be to make sure the covers fit properly. And due to the extra labor involved, my two books cost $10 each, with the whole process taking about 40 minutes.

A few other interesting points:

  • There were no ghost hands, but some of the pages were not cropped correctly - this caused them to be shrunk when printed, and in some cases the page numbers got trimmed off
  • It seems like the quality of the printing was excellent - the only real variable is the quality of the scan
  • The paper they use is acid-free and feels slightly glossy. I asked how long they expect the paperback covers and binding to last, but it's so new they're not sure
  • Color is only available for the covers - book pages are b&w only
  • I asked if they consider themselves "the publisher" for these books, and the answer was no - they are "the printer" because being a publisher involves more legal responsibility for the content of the books
  • Jeff said they've had the printer for about a month and a half, and it is used three or four 15-40 times a day (which was more often than I expected, but then again, the store is right across the street from Harvard. Nerds.)
  • Their catalog interface doesn't just search Google Books, but allows the printing of any book in the public domain, as well as self-published books
  • I don't want this to sound like a commercial for the store, but Jeff said he'd be interested in working with libraries - contact him for details

I tried to photograph the interesting parts, so check out my Books-on-Demand Printer flickr set or watch the slideshow below:

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Options for Printing Books

   November 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library print blocksIt's funny how things happen in threes*:

  1. A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a colleague about Google Books, and I made a comment like, "since Google is scanning all these old books, if they allow some kind of print-to-bind option, it would mean that no book would ever be out-of-print again." The idea intrigued me, so I looked around and found an article saying Google is doing exactly that.
     
  2. A week or so later, a post on LibraryStuff.net talked about HP and the University of Michigan teaming up for a print-on-demand service of their library books.
     
  3. And then this week, a friend of mine tweeted about free print-your-own mini books from Featherproof books.

The first two are useful and technologically interesting, but my reaction was, "I'm happy that exists somewhere in the world, but it'll probably never apply to me and my medium-size library" (except perhaps it might be a way to replace missing books from our Local History collection).

But the third one is cool in a Make/ReadyMade sort of way, and my reaction was, "hey, we could do that here." Chelmsford's Teen Librarian is participating in NaNoWriMo, and printing the kids' final books in this style would be a lot of fun. Plus, putting them on the Library's website means that their friends could print them too - and it's a much more interesting format than just 8.5x11 term-paper-looking printings.

It'd be great if there were web-based software that would do the formatting for you - just copy/paste in the text, and if flowed everything to the right page and orientation - but I'm guessing there is not. So in the meantime, I'll see what I can do with Publisher.

 


*Did you see 30 Rock last week? Ha.



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