Abuse Use of Printing Facilities

by Joe Lee
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Providing the best services and facilities for students is one of CSC's goals. Therefore, in 2002, the CSC installed 130 laser printers in the CSC Student Terminal Area and provided free laser printing facility to students to encourage academic work and learning. After installation, students enjoyed using this facility and the usage was closely monitored. From time to time, we gave guidelines to students and seek their assistance to reduce toner consumption. During year 2002-03, the consumption of toner was maintained at a satisfactory level. In view of printing needs, the CSC increased the budget of laser printing by 11% even though the central budget was reduced by 15%.

However, when Semester A commenced in September 2003, the situation was worsened dramatically. Toner consumption was 2~3 times as before. In September and October, about 40% of the total budget had been consumed. We did discover abuse cases and gave warnings to the students. Unfortunately, the situation had not improved. If we allowed the situation to deteriorate, our laser printing budget would be used up in two months. As toner consumption had reached an intolerable level, in early November, we reluctantly implemented more stringent measures, such as reducing the number of laser printers, increasing the number of Express Printing stations, replacing toners less frequently, removing toners from some printers and inviting students to bring their own toners to restore the balance. Meanwhile, the CSC looked for long-term solutions to solve the laser printing problem.

According to our observations, we believe the following are the major contributing factors for the sudden increase in toner consumption:

  1. Students print a lot of promotional materials mainly for election purpose (for example, Student Union election and Society election).
  2. Teachers put course materials online and stop delivering handouts to students so that students have to download and print their own copies by using the laser printing facility.
  3. Abuse, including printing a large amount of personal materials, helping friends to print commercial materials, stealing toners by swapping in used ones, and inviting outsiders to use the printing facility by lending them their student ID cards, and so on.

While we have no intention to cause any inconvenience to our students, especially those disciplined ones, we do depend on the co-operation and help from students and staff to make free laser printing services possible in spite of financial difficulties ahead. Students can help reduce wastage by printing what is absolutely necessary, and prevent improper use by reporting suspected abuse cases to the CSC Service Counter immediately. On the other hand, teachers can help by considering students' printing needs as a factor when posting course materials on the Web.

We have received many constructive suggestions from students and staff after our announcement on 5th November 2003 on the provision of laser printing. After reviewing the current situation, we have standardized the printer provision in our Student Terminal Area to one printer for every 8 workstations and, at the same time, increased the number of Express Printing stations from 5 to 10 to accommodate more student needs for small-quantity and urgent printing. After the implementation of the above-mentioned measures, toner consumption had returned to about the normal level by the end of November.

In mid-December, we introduced a print quota control system for trial in the 3 large terminal rooms. The system will be extended to cover the whole Student Terminal Area before Semester B commences. Usage data will then be collected and analyzed during the trial period to find out user behaviour, use patterns, and support requirements.

We shall continue to monitor our printing situation and work with the representatives from the Student Union to look for better long-term solutions. In the mean time, let's join hands in making free laser printing services affordable on our campus.