Home-brewed books at MSU Library Espresso Book Machine

Dec 28, 2016

There is a café located on the first floor of the Michigan State University Library, it serves the usual goods you’d expect. Light snacks and a few beloved liquid forms of caffeine. But one floor above it, there is an Espresso Machine. It doesn’t make coffee, however. It makes books.


Julie Taylor has been the coordinator of the MSU Library’s Espresso Book Machine since April of 2016, where it's only one of 30 such book-making machines in the US. “At my previous job," Taylor says, "I worked for a book wholesaler and distributor, and they were interested in one, but the licensing wouldn’t work out in that situation. But for the academic environment, this is perfect. People can self-publish, they can also print anything that is out of copyright, public domain or open-source documents, as long as the licensing permits actual printed physical copy. Other than that, people have printed blank notebooks that they’ve designed [and] photography books.”

But as Taylor further explains, the Espresso Book Machine prints more than just for academic needs.
“Today we had a graduate student come in and print a Christmas book of his own comic art that he drew and illustrated and it was online. But he wanted to give it as a gift to his mom, and so he printed it here. Anything they can think of to print, as long as you can get it into a PDF, Portable Document File format, we can print it… as long as you have the rights to print it.”

“Most of our books we can tell it has been student or personal written things. There have been one or two occasions where somebody has come in added their own personal notes to someone else’s work. And we’ve said ‘No, we can’t print that at this time. Please go contact the copyright owner, secure licensing rights and then we can’t print it.’ and that has happened.”

"As long as you can get it into a PDF, Portable Document File format, we can print it… as long as you have the rights to print it." - Julie Taylor, MSU Library

For Julie Taylor, though working with the Espresso Book Machine for just under a year, she still knows the ins and outs of the machine very well, partially from talking about it frequently. “We give tours here at the library, both for students on campus, for community organizations, or even like elementary school students come in through here. So, we have had many opportunities to explain how the machine works.”

But the heart of the Espresso Book Machine is the actual process of a book’s creation.

“To print a book, we get the files on the computer, and run them through a pre-flight to make sure that the files are correctly formatted and that the cover size will match the actual book size. We can print as many copies as people want. Whether they just want one copy, or 50, or 200. That’s fine. There are two printers. One for the cover that prints an 11x17 sheet of paper and feeds directly into the machine. The Xerox copier also prints the interior pages. Once it’s ready to bind, it lets us know and we can press the binding button or have it auto-bind. It’ll clamp the pages and rotate them, spine down. It’ll then run a glue-pot underneath the spine and back spreading a thin layer of glue along the spine and then press that onto the back of the cover. It sits there for about 12 seconds for the glue to harden. And then it passes it down to the bottom half of the machine where it will trim the top, bottom, and outside edge and deposit the book in the tray."

Even though the Espresso Book Machine has been at the MSU Library for a few years, computing technology has become more cloud driven, and that seems to also be reflected in the methods and indeed locations that Espresso books are sent. “People still come in with flash drives, but we work with people in New Jersey, and Texas, and print & ship books to them as well. We transfer, or DropBox, or MSU File Depot. There are so many ways people can send us files and as long as they are PDFs and fit the format of the EBM, we can print them.”

You can find more about the Espresso Book Machine, as well as book-printing pricing information, at the MSU Library's EBM website, available here: lib.msu.edu/ebm