What should we consider when looking at print management systems?
Print management systems help libraries deal with the dreaded tasks associated with helping patrons print. These systems can be a source of revenue to offset the costs and to reduce unwanted or accidental printing. Public printing involves consumable materials like paper and toner or ink as well as the costs of the printers themselves. While some libraries can absorb these costs into their budgets, others need to recover the costs or not offer the service. Ever since the early days of public workstations, libraries have struggled to find effective and cost-effective ways to manage public printing.
There are a variety of print management solutions available, each with a somewhat different features and capabilities. Some of the possible components or capabilities include:
- A payment and release station. This computer runs software that traps the print jobs and holds them until payment has been made. The software will be programmed with the cost per page or other factors.
- The release station may include a device that accepts cash payment, a credit card reader, and point of sale software.
- Print management systems may also interface with a university's card system, transferring charges to the student account.
- The print management software will manage a queue of requests, presented in a way that the user can select their job, make payment, and release it for printing. Unpaid jobs usually expire and are automatically deleted after a set interval. Accidental jobs can be removed by the user or a staff person.
- Some print management systems can communicate with the library's ILS for sign-in and to charge to a library account.
- Each library computer enabled for printing would be configured so that the print requests are directed to the queue associated with the print release station. Some systems have software on the computer where the user would provide an email address or provide account information without having to interact with a print release station.
- It is essential to purchase printers able to handle the appropriate volume use. In a library, these printers do not necessarily need to be of the industrial scale that would be seen in commercial services, but even a moderate level of use would likely be more than a low-cost personal printer could handle.
This approach is well suited for printing from public access desktop or laptop computers provided by the library. These can be configured and controlled to interact with the print management system.
These products have proven effective in reducing excess or unclaimed printing. Even with minimal or no cost, channeling print requests through a management system dramatically reduces excessive print requests.
Print management systems may also be used to allocate costs for staff and administrative use. Such a deployment would not necessarily require payment for release but would track printing performed by individuals and departments for internal budget control.
It's a bit more complex to enable printing from a patron's own laptop or mobile device. For many libraries, this scenario may be in more demand than printing from library-provided computers. Mobile printing can be handled through a designated WiFi-enabled printer, which could be associated with a print release station. Some mobile print solutions require the installation of an app on the device, which would either handle the payment options directly or route the request to the release station. Mobile print apps would naturally need to be available for both iOS and Android devices. Printing from personal laptops would usually involve the selection of the WiFi-enabled printer within the building's wireless network.
Print management systems may be available as discrete products or as part of a broader suite of related software, such as public computer scheduling, room reservations, or other utilities. Some of the major print management solutions for libraries include:
- The LPT:One print management system, which was developed by EnvisionWare and follows the traditional print release station model. This is a full-featured system with many different payment and interoperability options. Available at https://www.envisionware.com/print-manage ment/.
- PrinterOn for Libraries, which is a mobile printing solution, available directly from PrinterOn or through EnvisionWare. Available at https://www.printeron.com /industries/libraries.html.
- Uniprint and Mobileprint products offered by Pharos. The company is one of the original products in this category and is especially oriented to university-wide solutions. Available at https://pharos .com/uniprint/.
- Print Manager Plus, a software-only print management environment, offered by Print Manager. The company serves many different business sectors and offers a version of the product suitable for libraries. Available at https://www.printmanager .com/products/print_manager_plus _library.htm.
- CybrariaN offers one of the original Public Computer Print Cost Recovery products. Available at http://www.cybrarian.com/Solutions/Print_Cost _Recovery.htm.
Especially in higher educational settings, print management tends to be managed at the institutional library rather than having a library run its own approach. The university or college IT department is usually responsible for the selection, implementation, and maintenance of these systems, which are provided as part of the general technical infrastructure. Libraries may provide front-line support within their own buildings and may only be responsible for tasks such as reloading paper or toner. For these campus-wide implementations, key requirements would include integrating with student cards or accounts and being able to interface with any other ways that students make payments.
Services such as Google's Cloud Print may obviate some needs for print management services in the library. This service enables flexible printing via a personal or institutional Google account to any enabled printer. By itself, this service doesn't provide cost recovery.
Now that 3D printers have become commonplace in libraries, there may be interest in including them in print management systems. As a routine service, libraries may need to recover some of the costs of filaments, service contracts, or even the devices themselves.
In many ways, times have changed relative to the need for print management systems. Printing is not needed in the same ways as it may have been in the past. Students mostly submit papers electronically, uploading documents through the institutional learning management system. Researchers may prefer to email articles found in library databases rather than printing them. Cloud storage, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, is generally readily available for storing documents. Many may have citation management tools to capture references from articles. The number of use cases where a printed copy is needed as an intermediate or final product has diminished.
For libraries considering implementing a new print management system, it will be important to carefully review the business case for the system. These products are not inexpensive and may or may not bring in enough revenue to cover all the related equipment, software, service contracts, transaction fees, and personnel costs. There may be non-financial concerns driving the project, such as excessive waste or complaints about missing prints. While existing implementations may continue to generate revenue in excess of costs, I would look carefully at the return on investment for a new system. The business case would also differ between a library-specific project and a campus-wide deployment. For those where the business case justifies replacing an existing system or implementing one for the first time, there are multiple products available with a robust set of capabilities.