Papercut software measures printing to reduce waste

The Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives is currently analyzing data collected last semester by the Papercut printing software in an effort to develop a quota system for student printing that will be implemented next fall.

The software, which has the capability to charge for printed pages or impressions (single sides of type), has so far been used only to collect information about student printing habits. Each student must download the software and enter his or her unix in order use the College’s public printers. Papercut keeps track of the number of pages and impressions printed.

Data from the first semester show interesting trends, according to Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center. While some students printed only one or two pages on College printers, one student printed 5,261 impressions on 4,458 pieces of paper. First-years printed an average of 242 impressions and 139 pieces of paper and seniors use an average of 719 impressions and 409 pieces of paper. Sophomores and juniors were in between, with averages of 443 impressions and 260 pages and 434 impressions and 252 pages, respectively.

These trends are not difficult to explain, according to Boyd and her colleague at the Zilkha Center, environmental analyst Amy Johns. Infrequent users probably have personal printers or use the public computers in the libraries that do not require a Papercut login to print. As for the differences between grades: “Entry-level classes probably require less research, less writing,” Johns said, while upper-level classes often necessitate more printing.

Boyd and Johns, working in conjunction with the College libraries and the Office for Information Technology (OIT), hope to use this information to develop a reasonable and effective quota system for student printing that will likely be implemented next fall. Each student will be allotted a certain number of pages or impressions and will have to pay for printing if they exceed the quota.

“In some ways, [this plan] will make it more fair,” Boyd said, “because right now, the costs for printing are spread out.” Through tuition and student fees, the student who prints 4,500 pages pays the same amount as the one who prints 100.

The primary goal of the system, however, is not to raise revenue but to raise students’ awareness of the amount that they print. “We want to reduce waste, but we still want community members to be able to learn, teach, work,” Johns said. “We mostly want students to ask themselves, ‘Do I really need to print this out?’” According to Johns, there are many pages left at the printers each day and a quota could deter students from printing multiple copies and encourage patience with the printers.

Several problems, however, must be addressed before a quota system is implemented. The biggest issue is that anyone can print without a Papercut login on the several public computers in the libraries. Boyd said that OIT, which has “gradually weeded out technical problems” with Papercut over the last year and a half, is working on closing this loophole.

It is likely that a Papercut login will be required next year and that visiting lecturers or community members who need to print will be given temporary login names of their own. However, it is important for the eventual solution to be “accessible and usable by members of the community without being too cumbersome,” Boyd said.

Another concern is that leaders of student groups who need to print flyers or posters might quickly exceed the quota. Many of the students with the highest print totals last semester had such responsibilities, according to College Council (CC) Co-President Peter Nurnberg, who said it is important that any quota system “not significantly hamper educational or student group activities.”

The Zilkha Center has been developing the quota system in consultation with CC, who has been providing Boyd with student feedback and acting as an “advocate for the student body,” she said. Overall, CC wants to see a system that “accounts for differences in printing needs across the student body,” Nurnberg said. He believes that the needs of those involved in student organizations, taking classes whose course packets are posted on Blackboard, or writing theses should be addressed by the new system.

Another suggestion that CC has made is the development of a program to tell students how many jobs and pages are in the print queue. Nurnberg and Boyd agree that this will cut down on the printing of multiple copies. OIT is now working on such a solution.

Boyd encourages those with input about the quota system to contact the Zilkha Center. She wants the future program to be both fair and effective. “The best case scenario is that people reduce their printing and we collect no money,” Boyd said.