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:

Related



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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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Reference Question of the Week – 7/26/09

   August 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Print StationOur pay-for-print station has been acting funny lately - and by "lately," I mean the last 2+ years.

As you might expect, reference staff spends a lot of time answering "how do I print" questions. But software and hardware glitches aside, sometimes the PEBCAK errors can be entertaining. To wit, I helped these two patrons on the same day:

Patron 1
A teenage patron was printing out a webpage. I showed him how to print, and then walked with him to the print station. When we got there, we found someone had left a quarter and two dimes on top of the pay box. People sometimes do this to be nice to the next person, or they leave it there if they find change in the machine.

I could see the kid eyeing it, and finally he asked, "did someone leave those coins there?" I said, "yes, you can use it to print your job if you like." "Or I can take it," he replied, smiled conspiratorially, and scooped it up and put it in his pocket.

Then he proceeds to take out his wallet, remove enough coins to pay for his print job, and insert them in the pay box.

Patron 2
Later a very stylishly-dressed woman needed help printing. I showed her that her job would cost fifteen cents, so she digs in her coin purse for coins. First she pulls out a dime and a Canadian nickel, which she puts on a table and then slides apart. Next she fishes out a few pennies and a Euro. She reaches in again and pulls out what looked like an old Chinese coin with a hole in the middle and an American nickel.

Wile inserting the fifteen cents, she says in a tone obviously meant to impress me, "whew, all this foreign money - I suppose I should stop traveling the world so much."

But that's all fine - as long as the printer prints when it's supposed to and doesn't take peoples' money, I'm happy.



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Reference Question of the Week – 2/15/09

   February 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

spanish_reconquista animated gifA patron came up to the desk with this question:

I found a picture in Wikipedia that shows a map at four different periods in history. I want to print all four versions, but I can't get the image to stop.

We looked up the map he was talking about on one of the desk computers, and I saw that it was an animated gif file. By repeatedly printing the page at various stages of loading, the patron said he was able to get the first and last frames, but never the middle two.

I've never attempted to print an animated gif, and thought this was an interesting problem. I don't know if there is an official way to do this, but my solution was to simply do screen-captures for each frame, and then paste that into PowerPoint to print.

If you've never done this before, screen-capture is a handy tool - like the name implies, it is a method to capture whatever is displaying on your computer's screen. The display gets copied to the clipboard as an image, and can be pasted into other programs, just like anything else copied to the clipboard. (This is an especially useful technique if you're making how-to instructions [pdf, 297kb] for using software or a website - you can easily include visuals of exactly what your user will see.)

Here's how to do it:

  • Press the [Print Screen] key on the keyboard. That's it, you did a screen-capture. Now paste it somewhere to see what it looks like
  • A variant on this is to press [Alt]+[Print Screen] - while just the Print Screen key copies the entire screen, pressing Alt simultaneously will capture only the active window. This is useful as it lets you size the window to show only want you want, and it also leaves out the Start Bar and other menus or Desktopery

It worked, and the patron was happy - he liked it so much, in fact, that he wanted me to reprint the two maps he printed, so they'd all look the same. He also asked me to send him all four screen-captures as a single file [pdf, 567kb].



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