Limited printing policy takes yet another stab
The University libraries’ new printing limit and management system is going live today – take two.
After a rocky test two weeks ago that library officials described as a "fiasco," the system was re-tested Monday and Tuesday.
Barbara Kemp, assistant dean for Public Services, said they believe the kinks have been worked out.
"Until you went live, there was no way of knowing just what the impact would be," she said. As for the most recent test, "so far things seem to be working pretty well."
Students’ 500-page limit this semester will not be affected until today Diane Bruxvoort, assistant dean for Collections Services, said.
In the initial testing of the system, Kemp said, the huge load of print jobs being attempted caused the system to slow down to the point where print jobs took 10 to 15 minutes to release.
The problem was caused by a combination of students waiting longer between sending and releasing print jobs and the additional steps for print release stations as they scanned Cougar 1Cards. Many students reacted to the slower printing speeds by re-releasing print jobs from other stations without canceling the original jobs, officials said.
"As the problem started happening, it got worse and worse," Bruxvoort said.
The nearly 900 print jobs that piled up in the queues ended up being released one-by-one manually at the service desk, Bruxvoort said.
Officials said they attempted to fix problems as the system ran, but couldn’t because of the near-constant computer use in the library.
"We have to do hot testing, we try to fix it on the fly," Lee Hilyer, program director for Research and Reference Services, said. "
Library officials took a two-pronged approach to addressing the problem, first by dividing computers into groups of printers from which jobs can be released, and then by replacing the touch-screen print release stations with PCs, located just behind their respective printers.
Print jobs from any one computer can be released from four different stations that are assigned to specific rows, not from all of the printers in the library as was previously possible, Kemp said.
The small, touch-screen release stations will no longer be used, though Kemp said she was not sure what would be done with them.
By reducing the workload and increasing the memory and capabilities of the print release stations, Kemp said the main problems they’ve seen over the past two days of testing have been when students’ Cougar 1Cards have not been activated and thus are not recognized by the system. Students with this problem must activate the cards through Higher One at www.cougarone.com.
Students caught up in the problems of last week’s test can rest easy – any spent pages haven’t affected their semester total.
"Everyone will start fresh with their allocation," Bruxvoort said.
The printing limit works on a debit system – students are credited $25 at the beginning of each semester and 5 cents for a single sided or 7.5 cents for double-sided page is deducted from the allocation, which works out to 500 single-sided sheets or 333 double-sided sheets.
The limit, which applies to all UH libraries, will not affect printing at other computer labs on campus, library officials said.
Once a student’s allocation has been used up, they can pay for additional prints through the flex account on their Cougar 1cards. Money can be added at pay stations, which will transfer to students’ accounts around campus. Stations are available around campus, though currently no plans have been made to install the stations in the library, Kemp said.
Cougar 1Card customer service said the allocation for library printing and funds already in the flex account will not affect each other.
Hilyer said that every time a student prints, both the cost of the job and their remaining balance will be displayed.
Students can maximize their printing allocation by using print preview to check their jobs first, printing double-sided documents when feasible and printing document selections rather than entire documents, Kemp said.
"You can save yourself a lot of pain with print preview," she said.
Library officials also said students should remain at the printer while their jobs print to ensure the job is correct. If a problem such as low toner, a paper jam or other system error occurs, they should cancel the job and alert library staff, they said. If a printing error occurs because of the system, the library will re-print documents up to 25 pages long for free, Kemp said.
Hilyer also said that a documented problem with printing Microsoft Word files from WebCT while using Internet Explorer is not related to the new printing system. Instead she recommended using Firefox or Netscape Internet browsers, which are available on library computers.
Bruxvoort said the new printing limit is being implemented to reduce costs and to make best use of the UH library fee of $8.25 per semester credit hour, not so the library can "make money."
"We feel like this is a more responsible use for the student fee," she said. "Using the student fee wisely and not just throwing paper out there."
Kemp said in August that any savings from reduced paper, toner and machine wear would be re-allocated within the UH libraries.
Students printing in M.D. Anderson Memorial Library on Tuesday expressed mixed views on the new printing limit.
"It’s not enough," pre-pharmacy freshman Sabrina Ikhimokpa said.
"We paid our money, and we wouldn’t be printing this stuff if it wasn’t for school."
For accounting junior Micah Fletcher, however, the limit will pose no problems.
"They only thing I use the printers for is math homework," he said. "(500 pages) should be a fair number – people have been wasting paper. I just see people leaving stuff here all the time."
Bruxvoort said most students seem to accept the printing limit, but that graduate students have expressed the most concern.
Geoscience doctoral candidate Ayato Kato said he will need more than the 500 pages before the semester is out.
"I think the students don’t need limits," he said.
The 500-page limit was reached based on average individual print usage, Bruxvoort said, noting 80 percent of the libraries’ users print fewer than 500 pages per semester.
"If that’s not sufficient, we would consider it…. Our intention is for everyone to get what they need within the allocation," she said. "We look at the 500 (pages) as being very generous and sufficient."
Kemp noted that even with the new printing system, UH’s library system still offers more free printing to its students than other large Texas universities’ libraries; Texas A’M University offers 150 free prints per semester, Texas Tech offers 50 and the University of Texas at Austin offers none.
Plans are in the works to develop a way for the general public to pay for printing at the University libraries, though initially the new system will prevent anyone except for students to use its printing facilities.
"Alternatives, such as saving documents to external memory drives or e-mailing them, will not be affected," she said.
Library officials hope the new limits will make students more conscientious and responsible about using print resources.
"Print what you need," Bruxvoort said. "Use your allocation wisely."