The Poky Little Printer

Raise your hand if you’ve heard me harp about the student printer. That printer is locally famous enough to have made it into my Baccalaureate speech – celebrating a future where seniors never have to wait for that particular printer again. When we moved from iPads to BYOD, I smiled Grinch-like. My heart grew three sizes that day. That printer has a vendetta against iPads. Though, to be fair, it doesn’t have a particular love for Mac Books. And it’s only black and white. And only accessible if you are on the school wifi. Sometimes I’ll stand next to a student and watch as they send a print job only to see it sit stoically with a print queue of zero.

Like a moody cat that only loves its owner, I’ll admit that the printer likes me just fine. I can print from my PC. From my Mac. From my iPad!  I send a job from anywhere on campus and can count on it to churn up the copies exactly as requested. It’s dependable. Reliable. Loyal.

With some administrative restructuring last spring, I slipped into a new role. It’s both mentally adjacent to my previous role and physically indistinguishable – the same chair, the same view, the same printer to my left. I initially celebrated that printer management would fall to another. And yet…

The poky little printer—in its natural state

The following is a paragraph that I imagine will read as fantasy to those in larger schools. We’re a Google school, so my school email pops up any time a student hits the share button and types the letters “CP.” Because my library is a large L shape and is frequently used by our Study Out students, I tend to do a lot of my teaching in classrooms. Students are enterprising. I’d be working with World History or AP Lang, far from the library, and suddenly ping, ping, ping.

“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”

“Hold on class. Open. Print. Repeat.” When I asked students about this, I’d hear some variant of, “That seemed faster. It always works for you.” At its highest, this was twenty plus papers a day. And this was the solution students deemed easier. And while it might not be for the reasons I’d hope, this certainly showed that the students felt the library was central to their lives.

With some metaphorical distance – and an improved printer interface this fall – I’ve realized how many student interactions I gained from that printer and how much stronger I was as a librarian because of it. I’d have conversations with students every day about their work. When I had time, I’d ask about their projects. I’d make comments like, “Do you want to alphabetize that bibliography before printing?” or perhaps, “Ummm…remember this requires a bibliography. Want to print that too?” So many one-on-one conversations. And since just about any printing issue could be solved by sending it to me, most of those conversations ended with a student feeling like the library left them in a better place than they’d been a few minutes before. So later conversations might be, “How did this ICW compare to what you’ve been asked to do as a Precis in History?” “Tell me something you learned about how bees communicate.” “Why are you choosing to write about this book for your essay?” To say nothing of the SAT tickets, senior speeches, trip forms…

Obviously this isn’t an optimal library use strategy, but it is interesting what sorts of conversations come up during this involuntary quality time.

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