ON THE COST OF PAPER IN THE PAPERLESS SOCIETY
James H. Sweetland, North American Convenor
Nearly a generation ago, F. W. Lancaster announced the imminent demise of the use of paper as an information transfer tool. To date it would appear that his prediction was a bit premature. For example, take the OPAC, the Online Public Access Catalogue. First, a small number of terminals was installed, and the catalogue run parallel with the card files. Then the card catalog was completely closed and the number of terminals increased, until some libraries have completely eliminated the card catalogue. First, the few terminals were stand-alones, with no printers available. Gradually, however, either each terminal was given its own printer, or a number of terminals were linked with a high speed laser printer.
In the process, of course, we have also seen the “card catalogue” terminal replaced by a microcomputer, and an increase in the number of databases available. The library terminal (and its printer) is now an access engine for a variety of bibliographic, graphic and textual databases (including both online equivalents of traditional bibliographic tools and, increasingly, online equivalents of standard reference books), not to mention the World Wide Web.
For the most part users of these terminals access information, which is then printed out on the spot, a phenomenon not apparently affected by the availability in many libraries of disc drives which permit downloading, not even if the library also sells disks. So important is the printing function that some reference librarians are beginning to comment, negatively, that the biggest impact to date of the automated library is the increase in their sub-clerical duties or adding paper, correcting paper jams, explaining how to print and the like.
Now, all of this has very definite financial implications, implications which libraries strangely have been slow to address. In many parts of the US, for example, libraries have obtained additional funding from state and private sources to buy the terminals, and sometimes even to subscribe to the various information services. If not, they have tended to use the “book budget” to obtain the services. However, the paper (along with toner) has come out of a supply budget (often called Supplies and Expenses, or Supplies and Services- - note the lack of any “information” terminology in this category), a budget which rarely has been increased as a result of information technology. In fact in one state with which I am familiar the S & E budget has in essence not increased at all (except for a small inflation multiplier) in the last 15 years.
This lack of support for the hard copy has had several implications, for the most part, negative ones. Many of these relate to funding:
- Some libraries merely “rob” from their own budgets, thus reducing other expenditures for such things as staff training and travel, or, at the extreme, reducing purchase of other information source which are not on the computer system.
- Some libraries have experimented with putting coin boxes or credit card readers on the printers, thus charging users for printing.
- Some libraries have begun restricting users to a given amount of printing per session or per time period (such as a semester in some university libraries).
- To date few if any libraries have removed printers entirely.
And what of the users? Well,
- Many of them sit at terminals for some time (at least as long as the library’s policy permits), printing out everything they do. This tends to tie up the printer, leading to the behaviour noted below, and/or also user complaints about the lack of printing facilities.
- Many of them appear to have little knowledge or interest in queuing, and when their material does not immediately pop out from the printer, issue repeated print commands, until they finally see their material. They rarely seem to then cancel the other jobs, or even bother to wait for the paper to appear.
- Strangely, many users do not even appear to pick up their printed jobs.
- However, regardless of how they approach printing, users generally prefer to use whatever appears on the terminal, even to the point of refusing to attempt using a printed source, even when prompted by the librarian.
This last phenomenon deserves further comment, forthcoming in a month or so, but for the present, the point here is financial - the addition of more information technology in libraries and similar organizations open to the general public directly implies the addition of more printers, and of more paper generation. Thus, in addition to the capital expenditure for hardware and software and the operating expense of subscriptions and fees for access to the data, the library must also plan for substantial amounts of printing. While this may not be politically correct, or particularly popular with funding and governing agencies, paper (along with ribbons or toner), this will be a substantial budget item. And, while the question of whether the library or the user should pay remain open, pay for paper someone must.