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Library Print Manager


This article discusses whether or not you should charge for printing. It also walks through three approaches to Print Managering and collecting printing fees. Also covered are printing from laptops and the criteria to consider if you decide to buy print management software.

1. To Charge or Not to Charge

Deciding whether or not you should charge for printing and other services starts with the age-old library dilemma of cost recovery versus equal access. In these days of tight budgets, every dime matters; however, when it comes to charging for services, are we subtly discriminating against disadvantaged patrons? Furthermore, is it really cost effective to charge for printing? Paper and ink cartridges are expensive, especially if you have a color printer, but the cost of collecting all those dimes and quarters is also significant. You either have to pay for expensive printing stations (see below for more information), or you have to increase the workload on your staff as they collect the money for each print job and deliver the pages to each patron.


If you have no restrictions at all, a patron could accidentally print War and Peace ten times and waste several reams of paper. To discourage this type of mistake, a lot of libraries put the “Print Preview” button on the Web browser toolbar and remove the “Print” button. When patrons see the Print Preview screen, they’ll realize how many pages they’re about to waste. This is easy to do with Public Web Browser. However, it may take a lot of research and hacking to accomplish this in other browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) or IE7. If you decide you don’t want to monitor and charge, you can still ask patrons to observe an informal, unenforced limit on the number of pages they print each day. Posting this limit prominently might remind patrons that paper and ink cost money. Even more subtle would be a donation box set right next to the printer with a suggested contribution per page.


There’s no simple answer to this question. You first have to decide what costs you’re trying to recover: Paper? Ink and toner cartridges? The printers themselves? The cost of print management software? The time that your staff puts into maintaining the printers and helping patrons? Most libraries aim to recover the cost of paper and toner cartridges and possibly the costs of the printers as well.

It’s not too hard to figure out the cost of one piece of paper. If 500 sheets costs you $8, then each sheet costs roughly one and a half cents.

Toner cartridges are usually rated in terms of how many pages they can print. If your black-and-white cartridge costs $150 and it prints 12,000 pages, then the ink for a single page is costing you roughly one and a half cents.

At the low end, you might charge $.03 to $.04 per page. On the high end, $.10 per black and white page is probably the most you should charge.

SIMPLE Print ManagerING

The simplest method for watching the printer and charging for copies is to simply place the printer behind the circulation desk and hold a patron’s print job hostage until they walk up and pay the ransom. However, with this technique, you have no way of knowing which patron sent the document. If reams and reams start shooting out of the printer, you have to turn off the printer and stroll through the library until you figure out who sent it. You then have to cancel the rest of the print job from the printer itself or from the public computer.

2. Print Manager Software

If you have more than a handful of computers, you might look into print management and print server software. If you want the simplest of print servers, you can use some of the functionality built into Windows. However, there are also several more advanced software packages designed specifically for Print Managering. Some things to consider when you start shopping:

Will the print release station be managed by staff, or will it be managed by the patrons themselves?

If patrons release the print jobs themselves, will you buy some sort of a vending machine to collect the money? This approach is obviously easier on your staff, but vending stations are a significant investment. They can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

What sorts of payment will the vending machine accept? Coins? Bills? Credit cards? If you have lots of printers and copiers spread throughout the library, you might look into a vend-a-card solution (also known as a debit card solution). Patrons put money on a debit card, and they can then use this card at any printer or copier in the library.

Can you configure your system so that patrons can add money to their account using a credit card and a Web form, and is this a feature you want?

Can you use an existing computer as the print release station, or do you need to buy a special piece of equipment from your vendor?

Do you need to install software on every machine?

Can you set different prices for different printers? You might charge $.04 per black and white page and $.20 per color page.

Can you give patrons a certain number of free pages per day or per print job?

Will it be easy for patrons to identify their print job when they get to the print release station?

3. Do You Want to Let Patrons Print from Their Laptops?
Some libraries have decided that patrons just won’t be able to print directly from their laptops. They can save to a floppy or a USB drive, wait in line for a wired computer and print from there. However, if you have enough money for an extra printer, below are three options for making it available to laptop users. In most cases, though, your patrons will have to download and install a driver or other
printer software. Be sure to make instructions available.

Buy a network printer — If you have a network printer (i.e., one that hooks directly into your network via an Ethernet cable), you can plug it into one of the local area network (LAN) ports on your access point. Or, if the printer is too far away from the access point, you may be able to find a wireless adapter for that printer.
Use an existing computer as a print server — To do this, attach your printer to an old computer via the USB port (or the parallel port, if your printer is old). Then attach the computer to your access point with an Ethernet cable.

Wireless print servers — Instead of using an existing computer as your print server, you can buy a dedicated print server for $60 to $100. For more information on these devices, see the articles in the “Other Tasty Recipes” section.

About Printer Usage

Printer Usage has been developing innovative print management software solutions since 2003. Our mission is to provide easy-to-use print management solutions for today's complex printing environments. Our products help automate and simplify the administration of printing and reduce printing cost. Our core products are Print Manager and Print Control.

For further information, contact:

Gary Null
Vancouver, British Columbia
Y6Z 1Y5 Canada