March 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Last week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.
We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.
A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.
Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.
So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).
The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.
How It Works
To use it, patrons start at http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/webprint, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.
When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.
Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:
We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.
But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.
*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.
March 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog
One of the most common questions we get at the Reference Desk is something along the lines of:
I tried to print something, but all I got was this blank page. Can you print it for me?
The reason this happens (I think) is that a lot of web pages - especially news sites and free email accounts - compartmentalize information using frames*, and many web browsers have a difficult time trying to print all these different frames at the same time.
When patrons try to print a page like this just using the browser's File > Print function, it often doesn't work. The page designers know this, so they usually embed a little printer icon somewhere within the content frame the person wants to print - the body of the email, the news story, etc. It generally seems to appear in the top-right corner of the content window, and when you click it, opens the important content in an entirely new window that will print nicely. However, it is often so subtle that people never notice it.
But check this out: I stumbled upon PrintFriendly by accident, and I love the idea. It is specifically designed to make printing these annoying pages easier. You can copy/paste in the URL of the page you want to print, it grabs the content, and then you have full control over which parts of the page actually print - it lets you remove anything you don't want.
What I thought was even more useful is their bookmarklet that you can stick right in your browser - that way when you want to print a page, the PrintFriendly button is always right there, instead of having to mess with copy/pasting the URL. Neat.
Since finding this, I've been testing it every chance I get, and it seems to work about 90% of the time. Usually, exactly what I want to print is the only thing that shows up. But even when extra sidebars and things do show - like in this Lowell Sun newspaper article (source) - PrintFriendly makes it so easy to remove all the junk (just click on whatever you want to delete). This means the good content fills the page (a single page), instead of being a very narrow column four pages long.
It didn't work everywhere though. For instance, Zap2it.com listings seem to print much better the normal way than through PrintFriendly.
A few more neat features: once you render a page to print in PrintFriendly, it gives you the option to print, create a PDF, or email it. Very handy.
Of course, my first thought was to put the bookmarklet in all the browsers on our public workstations. This still might be a good idea, but patrons will need to be trained to use it, which will be a challenge. Everyone is so conditioned to File > Print, and usually people don't know something went wrong until after they've paid for their print job (why doesn't anyone File > Print Preview?!?).
So for the time being, this might just be a handy tool in the librarian toolbox (but I do have it installed on my computer).
I have no idea how long PrintFriendly has been around, so I might be the last person to know. Has anyone been using this? I'm curious to see how well PrintFriendly works on a wider array of websites.
*Frames is an HTML way of embedding multiple "windows" into the same webpage. The best clue for knowing whether or not there are frames on a page is to notice if there are scroll bars inside the page. There will always be the main vertical scroll bar all the way on the right edge of the browser window (for pages longer than the screen), but sometimes there are additional vertical scroll bars in the page itself, that just moves some content in a little window. This is a frame, and may or may not print when you print using the browser's File > Print functionality.
September 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog
This week's question is one we get asked many times a day - it's not difficult at all, but this time had a sort of heart-wrenching twist.
A woman in her early twenties walked up to the desk. Very politely, and with a little hesitation, she asked:
I just printed something for my school, but I don't know where to pick it up. Can you please help me?
For public printing in my library, we use Envisionware's LPT:One, which works well for us. All the print jobs from our public computers go to a central print release station, where patrons pay for their job before it actually gets printed. So that patrons know which print job is theirs, when they print they get prompted to name their job:
Once a patron goes through this once, they understand how it works. But the first time isn't totally intuitive, so we do get asked for help in printing frequently.
My personal rule is this: if someone asks me where they pick up their print job, I take that to mean they've never printed here before, so I go with them over to the print station and walk them through the steps to pay for and release their print job.
That's what I did in this case, and while walking over to the printer, I asked the patron if she had entered a name for her job. She replied,
Well, a little box asked me to name my job, so I typed in "waitress."
I don't know why this struck me as so sweet and sad - maybe her innocence and naivety, maybe the idea of someone working their way through college. Maybe I'm just getting sentimental in my old age. She didn't mean anything by it though, so when we got to the print station, I showed her how to select the job named "waitress" and print it out. She thanked me and left.
February 19th, 2011 Brian Herzog
One afternoon, a middle school-age patron asked to borrow a protractor. Normally, requests like this aren't a problem - we have lots of school tools and office supply stuff that we let people use all the time. But this time, I looked everywhere - Reference, YA, Childrens, and our supply closet - and there wasn't a protractor anywhere.
After my search, I went back to the table where the patron was sitting with her tutor to apologize for not having one for her. As I did, kind of spur of the moment, I offered to see if I could find one online to print out - if that was okay with them.
The student and tutor both kind of looked stunned, but then said sure, a printed one would probably work fine - although they both seemed kind of skeptical.
I went back to the desk and searched Google Images for "protractor" (limited to Large size since I was going to print it).
The very first result seemed perfect, so I printed it and took it, along with a pair of scissors, over to their table.
As I handed it to them, I think it finally dawned on them what I was doing - and that they now had to cut it out. They both were laughing and kind of delighted with the novelty of adding a craft project to math homework.
An hour or so later when they were finished, the student came to return the scissors to the desk. I asked her if it worked okay, and she smiled and said she liked it so much she was going to save it to take to school.
Meanwhile, my homework is to go to the dollar store to get a protractor to leave at the Reference Desk.
March 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog
A couple years ago, Encyclopedia Britannica was on an anti-Wikipedia kick, fearing, I think, that this would be the fate of print encyclopedias:
I'm happy (and not surprised) to report this didn't happen. I believe the same will prove true with the notion of ebooks making print books obsolete. This is a big world, and things have a way of finding their own niche. Radio lives on despite television (and movies and computers), pencils live on despite pens, candles live on despite electricity, bicycles live on despite cars, etc.
Many of the books I own are older than I am, and I'm sure they'll still be around (and in use) after I'm gone.