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Week 3: Public Library Printing System: an Interactive Experience

I bet that, providing printing service to meet the demand by a large number of university students and public users is not an easy task. The NYU Bobst Library uses a print credit card system that can read and calculate printing credit balance for individual users, making sure everyone gets his/her print-outs while maintaining an effective cost per page system. I had an opportunity to observe how people interacted with the printing system.

How it works

Every student initially needs to set up an account for wireless printing service with the library. This account is linked with the student account by his/her student ID. Once created, the student ID card is loaded with $50 print credit for the semester.

Now it is time to print something. As a person clicks Print on the computer screen, there will be pop-up message that tells you how much it is going to cost to print the selected document. User clicks Accept, and the document is sent to the printer with a card reader that prompts the person for his/her ID card. As he/she swipes the card, the document is printed. It is not a too complicated process although it requires a standard step-by-step, no short-cut, and possibly some wait-time in between steps.

The Interaction

It is a single service system, so there is not a concern about picking up other people's copies by mistake. At my previous job, I was used to having my print-outs mixed up with other people's if everyone hit Print at the same time. That's not the case here.

Now, it seems to take a few seconds to send print requests from the computer to the printer. Some people may have to swipe their cards a few times to see their print requests. Some didn't see their print requests shown on the card reader and had to go back to their computer to resend the request. Some cancelled their requests. By now, there is a queue lined up waiting to print.

What's the easy part?

The easy part is hitting print and picking up your print-outs when it is your turn. The in-between steps take time to go through but are quite self-explanatory for someone who feels comfortable navigating on basic electronic equipment and are computer literate on a basic level. Another easy part is queuing up waiting for your turn and picking up all the papers you print, no need to be carefully picking out just what is yours among others'. It wouldn't be ideal if you have to do that in a large public service facility. Basically your papers won't get printed unless you are physically at the machine to swipe your ID card and allow the task to be executed. I like this feature because if I change my mind, I can delete my request on the card reader's screen.

What's not so easy?

I signed up for a print account for myself, and immediately noticed the challenge with correctly setting up the wireless printer on my laptop. After about 3 minutes trying to decide which link is the correct installation for my Mac Pro, and 4 or 5 rounds of getting sent from one link to another, then back to the original one, etc., it had taken a good 10-15 minutes until I finished setting it up by myself, plus the help from my friend, which is something you would not expect to experience for just getting something printed. Having said that, some people may be more natural with the process. However, after that initial set-up, everything else was self-explanatory, which was great because it is not always easy to get help from a librarian in a busy public library.