This past Friday, I was in Ann Arbor doing research for a future book. When we finished our work in the archives, my wife suggested that we check out the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) that was installed at the University of Michigan over a year ago. The young special collections librarian was familiar with the machine and told us exactly where it is located. She looked up its hours of operations on the school’s website and noticed that the machine was in operation from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. weekdays. Because that is only ten hours a week, we decided that the website was in error; the EBM must be in operation from 10:00 a.m. to midnight. The Shapiro Library, which is better known to Michigan alums as UGLI (for Undergraduate Library), is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. daily, so 10:00 a.m. to midnight makes sense for the EBM. However, the website is not wrong.
We arrived a little after 5:00 p.m. to find the Espresso machine just inside the front door as advertised, sitting idle, also as advertised. An employee of the library explained to us that only two people were trained to use the machine and they only operated it two hours a day, weekdays. On the counter was a folder with a few pages of lists of books available to be printed. None of them interested me. I had expected to find a computer catalogue of thousands of pre-1923 books available to be printed. After all, Google famously scanned Michigan’s entire collection. There had to be numerous books in it that are in the public domain.
The gentleman handed us a stack of pre-printed books that could be purchased, but none of them interested us. The quality of the books looks to the naked eye to be about the same as that of print-on-demand books.
Some months ago, Jeff Wood, the proprietor of Whistlestop Bookshop in Carlisle, PA, and I discussed the possibilities of the Espresso machine, particularly in a college town. One opportunity we envisioned was professors, unshackled from the need to find a publisher willing to invest in their books, writing their own texts for the courses they teach. The college bookstore wouldn’t have to inventory the books, other than a few copies to keep lines down at the beginning of the term. Researchers wishing to read dissertations wouldn’t have to strain their eyes and wrenching their bodies over microfilm machines.
But that is not to be at the University of Michigan. One hopes that other installations more fully utilize their EBMs. More on the machine, including a video of it in operation, can be found at http://www.ondemandbooks.com/home.htm.