Do we really need those new printers?

The last 25 years have brought huge changes to printing technology yet in many ways nothing has changed. Why not? After all, the use of paper for archival storage has many drawbacks and, in this information age, offers few advantages.
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

This morning my colleague, Chris Dawson, wrote a rather amusing piece entitled "But my printer is out of ink…".  It's kind of a twenty-first century version of the kinds of excuses kids use for not getting their assignments done.  It brought to mind a piece I wrote last fall about printing in a university setting.  (Buy a server, save a tree). 

The problem remains that, especially in a university setting, far too many faculty still refuse to leverage the technology to their advantage.  Instead of having their students leave their assignments in a secure server-based "drop box" designed for this purpose, they have students hand-in reams of paper each semester. 

Faculty have embraced putting reading materials online in "eReserves" instead of sending students to the "reserve desk" in the library yet they turn around and instruct their students to print off these "eReserves" and bring them to class! 

They may save their department money in duplicating costs but as soon as they tell their students to print off this material, the very same costs get shifted over to Education IT, or worse, those costs are incurred by students paying outlandish amounts of money for ink instead of using their university's laser printers which cost far less per page to operate than personal inkjet printers. 

Some of the worse offenders are departments (and often individual faculty) who on the one hand promote environmental responsibility but on the other are personally responsible for vast amounts of student-generated waste-paper! 

The most frustrating one is those faculty that scream at Education IT demanding that duplex printing should be the only option available on school-owned printers while their colleagues refuse to accept any assignments printed in duplex.  Since most students and faculty will not use duplex if they don't have to, and because high-volume duplex printing shortens printer life, and reduces printer reliability, mandatory duplex printing invariably costs more in toner and printer parts than it ever saves in paper! 

Lest we forget about university administration, how often do administrators ask their support staff to print out their e-mail for them to read and comment upon?  And how often to these same folks communicate with their staff through paper-based memos?

Students are no better.  Almost every software application made today is capable of utilizing the operating system's print drivers to preview every document before it is ever printed yet students rarely use this capability.  Preferring instead to print out their document, pull it out of the printer and, after seeing spelling or format errors, immediately dropping it into the nearest wastebasket.  This can account for as much as 15% of the waste paper accumulating each day at your printers.

It is bad enough that for the money spent on every laser printer you buy, you could have bought TWO workstations during the lifetime of that printer, what is worse is that the money spent on paper and toner could have bought forty workstations -- or 38 workstations and one server to hold all those pages that were instead printed on paper! 

The message is this:

Education IT can all but eliminate the need for printing on paper.  The tools exist today -- if only faculty, staff, and students will get on board!

Editorial standards