Would You Like Some Coffee With Your Espresso?

The University of Michigan Shapiro Library recently added an On Demand Books Espresso Book Machine [EBM] to its services. The EBM will offer printed and bound reprints of out-of-copyright books from [the University’s] digitized collection of nearly 2 million books, as well as thousands of books from the Open Content Alliance and other digital sources. The University gives some more information about why they bought the EBM here.

As a standalone unit, I think this is really cool. Working in libraries, you run into issues all the time with older material that is in the public domain, but the material is not something you’d want to loan due to its age and fragility or even its scarcity.

At my place of work, there are a few volumes we have in our collection that aren’t held anywhere else. We get constant requests for them, but we don’t lend them out. A machine like this would let a lot of colleges and Universities provide material through either interlibrary loan (ILL) or direct purchase.

Michigan is charging $6 for books up to 150 pages and $10 for books 151-440 pages (larger than 440 and the machine has to split the book into two volumes). At that price, it’s worth the purchase for an out-of-print, hard-to-find volume.

Beyond that, I see potential future uses for the machine at Michigan as very useful in an academic setting:

  • Printing and binding of theses and dissertations
  • Reprints of faculty-authored-out-of-print books
  • Printing and binding of new materials written by faculty and students

I particularly like the last point. You could generate a book of short stories from a creative writing class. You could bind up class presentations from design students. As long as you can create a digital file for input to the EBM, you can print it. There are all sorts of options for what you could do with material that was created at the University that might not be something a publisher would want.

Can you imagine only having to spend $10 for the professor’s book for a class instead of $50 or $80? Of course, that’s only if the book has gone out-of-print to begin with. And as they point out, course packets contain copyrighted material and therefore cannot be printed by the EBM. Other FAQ here.

And of course, your institution needs a spare $100,000 or so to be able to buy an EBM. It’s not surprising that many of the institutions that already have one are sizeable. While I totally want one for myself, it will be a while before I have that $100K saved up.

I can’t think of an application of this outside an academic setting, as other ‘more traditional’ print-on-demand services would most likely fit the bill better than sinking so much capital into an EBM. Perhaps a large corporation could use this to bind up annual reports or research.

Here is the Espresso in action:

Now, of course there are many other print-on-demand services and machines out there. I’ve only touched on the Espresso Book Machine in this post, but I encourage people post comments on their experiences. Anyone in Michigan able to see this machine in action? I was excited to see that the University of Alberta has one (since I’m going to Calgary in a few weeks), but it’s in Edmonton, not Calgary.

Anyone willing to get a book for me? Perhaps the literary New York title? I’ll reimburse you.


[Images from On Demand Books, used with permission.]

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