New book machine revealed at Pitt

By Katherine Sandler

A new machine unveiled yesterday in the Hillman Library will soon let Pitt students print out… A new machine unveiled yesterday in the Hillman Library will soon let Pitt students print out books on demand, a process that makes publication faster, cheaper and easier than before.

The new Espresso Book Machine, designed by On Demand Books, LLC, can produce out-of-print university publications as well as other materials, including textbooks. The University plans to eventually move the machine to the Book Center for public use.

Printed materials are digitized by the University Library System and then converted into a paperback book that costs about the same as a paperback produced by a standard press. Students can use Panther Funds to pay for the books.

Spectators watched yesterday as what looked like two monitors attached to three copy machines bolted together produced the first book: “Where the Evidence Leads,” an autobiography by former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

The monitors allow the customer to order and then track the construction of the book. Inside, a copy and producing-machine system converts the digital text file to paper. A color printer then prints out the cover of the book.

The machine presses the pages and cover together, glues and trims them. Finally, the completed book falls down the chute, ready to read and literally hot off the press.

The machine prints on 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper. Cynthia Miller, head of the University Press, said publishing companies use the same sized 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper to print their books, so extra waste will not be created.

Miller said it takes about three to four minutes for smaller books to be printed. The demonstration book was 600 pages long and took almost nine minutes.

During the unveiling event, Thornburgh said he was “proud to be the guinea pig and that this grand undertaking was an amazing production.”

A 1957 graduate of Pitt’s School of Law, Thornburgh said returning to campus was a nostalgic trip for him and his wife and that a large part of his life was centered in this immediate area.

Rush Miller, director of the University Library System, said that 30 to 35 universities worldwide have the machine. People who don’t have frequent access to the Internet might find them useful if they need to print copies of books, he said.

Pitt officials have tried to bring the technology to the University for years. Cynthia Miller first approached Rush Miller about a new technology that could create paperback books from a digital file a few years ago.

The University had an opportunity to bring earlier versions of the book-printing technology to campus a few years ago, but the machines were too “loud and smelly,” Rush Miller said. He told On Demand Books to contact him in the future if they had another model that would work in a library.

The Espresso Book Machine does not involve a high upfront cost for printing and is cheaper than ordering from the publisher, Miller said. The new print-on-demand technology allows for more textbooks to be made available for classes and at a lower cost for students.

Cynthia Miller said students would be able to use the Espresso Book Machine soon. She said that, in the near future, the technology may be sophisticated enough to print a selection or specific chapter of a book.

A handful of students, University administrators — including Chancellor Mark Nordenberg — and reporters attended the event.

Senior Morgan Davis weighed in on the premier of the new machine.

“It’s cool that Pitt is one of the first universities in the country to do it,” Davis said. “It provides accessibility to people who don’t know how to work technology and who don’t have access to the Internet. ”

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