Sunday, October 5, 2008

U-M at forefront of new era in publishing

With the installation of a state-of-the-art book-printing machine at one of its libraries, the University of Michigan stands at the new frontier of 21st-century publishing, offering printed and bound reprints of out-of-copyright books from its digitized collection of nearly 2 million books, as well as thousands of books from the Open Content Alliance and other digital sources.

U-M is the first university library to install the book-printing machine. The Espresso Book Machine, from On Demand Books of New York, produces perfect-bound, high-quality paperback books on demand. A Time Magazine "Best Invention of 2007," the Espresso Book Machine has been called "the ATM of books." It was purchased with donations to U-M libraries.

After Oct. 1, the Espresso Book Machine will be operating most mornings during the week, with a selection of titles available for sale.

"This is a significant moment in the history of book publishing and distribution," said Paul Courant, dean of libraries at U-M.

"As a library, we're stepping beyond the limits of physical space," he said. "Now, we can produce affordable printed copies of rare and hard to find books. It's a great step toward the democratization of information, getting information to readers when and where they need it."

The book machine, located in the Shapiro Library lobby on U-M's Central Campus, prints out-of-copyright books from the University's digitized collections. At a cost of about $10 per book, the service is available to researchers, students and the public.

The printing process begins with a reader selecting a digitized book from U-M's pre-1923 collection or from another online source, such as the Open Content Alliance. Most books printed prior to the early 1920s can be reprinted without seeking the permission from whomever holds the copyright. Then the file is downloaded to the Espresso Book Machine, where it is formatted, printed and perfect bound with a four-color cover.

A finished printed book takes 5-7 minutes, depending on the number of pages.

Since 1996, U-M Libraries have digitized nearly 2 million books. The University was the first participant in the Google Book Search program, which digitizes books in libraries throughout the world.

"We are delighted to install the machine at such a prestigious institution where it can access a variety of digital repositories to print high-quality books in about the same time it takes to brew an espresso," said Dane Neller, cofounder and CEO of On Demand Books.

On its Web site, On Demand Books likens the potential impact of the book machine in the 21st century to that of the Gutenberg press in the 15th-century. Mass production and dissemination of books was a major factor in the rise of critical, independent thinking, leading to a renaissance in the arts and sciences.

In the next several years, On Demand Books expects to install Espresso Book Machines in libraries and bookshops around the world. All the machines will be connected by a network, allowing libraries to share and reprint volumes from their collections.

"This print technology will allow the Library to maximum advantage of digital technology," said U-M's Courant.

"Digital and print versions work in tandem, and soon researchers anywhere in the world will be able to browse U-M's digitized holdings, select a book from our out of copyright collections and have the book printed within minutes."

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