Print Paperbacks on Demand with the Library’s Espresso Book Machine

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Ilustration by Alberto Antoniazzi

Self-publishing is nothing new, and thanks to online publishers like Amazon’s CreateSpace, it’s also never been easier. If you can put words on paper, you can publish a book. (The erotic stylings of E.L. James have proven as much.)

But to watch as your very own work is printed before your eyes—that’s a novelty turned reality. The Public Library of Cincinnati’s new Espresso Book Machine allows patrons to print paperback books on demand. Available for public use in the library’s main branch since December, it joins a collection of other tools (3-D printers, laser cutters) in the MakerSpace, a haven for creators and designers.

It’s only the sixth public library in the country to have such a machine, which cost just north of $145,000. “It’s just something we dreamed up,” says MakerSpace team leader Ella Mulford. “We never thought it would happen.”

Using the machine is a cinch. An author uploads the text and cover image via the library’s website, after which a staffer helps select typeface and margin size and preps the file for printing. Then, the machine gets to work.

“They can watch as [the book] is printed and hold it in their hands immediately,” says Mulford. The process takes less than four minutes, and the book—cover and all—emerges bound and ready to read. (It’s also assigned a barcode and International Standard Book Number, so it’s ready for sale, too.) Once the owner approves the first proof, copies can be made instantly.

For those who prefer reading books to writing them, the Espresso Book Machine is still a handy tool. It can also print from a vast catalog of popular, rare, and even out-of-print titles.

“This brings the MakerSpace full circle,” says Mulford. “We have things here that aren’t what you’d traditionally find in a library. This brings it back to books.”

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