I am a book hoarder. My parents made the mistake of transforming my bedroom from a closet holding an over-sized bunk bed into a closet with wall to wall library shelves when I was twelve and from that point forward I considered it my mission to fill book shelves. Sadly, my addiction only worsened when I went to college and suddenly had a reason for buying and keeping vast quantities of books. Every class, every research project, and every Christmas was a further justification to add new volumes to my library. The intervention came when I went to study in Oxford last year.
My Oxford reading lists would have needed their own suitcase had I brought them with me, and would have cost me far too much if I’d bought them at Blackwells. The (then) newly minted iPad seemed the best choice as it could read books from Amazon’s Kindle format as well as Mac’s native iBooks app. But, most academic book I needed for Oxford were not available from either source. The simple answer was to scan them and read them with a .pdf reader. Little did I know that there is nothing simple about scanning books–at least for the time being.
The Three Big Options
1) Nondestructive Commercial Scanners – There are wonderful contraptions available for book scanning that leave the pages and bindings intact and produce beautiful results. However, the machines from Atiz like the BookDrive DIY at $5700, for example, are cost prohibitive unless one is from an institution or the trust-fund set.
2) Nondestructive Do It Yourself (DIY) Scanners – The fine folks over at http://www.diybookscanner.org have been producing plans and custom software for book scanning for quite a while now. If one is willing to take the risk to construct the scanning frame, light source(s), and buy a couple of Canon point-n-shoots, they can provide everything else. However, I know that in my hands, such a project would quickly escalate until it cost as much as one of the commercial options out of the fear that the final product would not live up to my expectations without a custom machined titanium frame and super-low dispersion coated glass, and well… all that other stuff that promises better clarity and stability.
3) Destructive Commercial Scanners – Destructive scanning starts with cutting the spine from a book either yourself with a stack cutter ($250) or having a copy shop do it for you ($1-2). Once freed from the binding the pages can be scanned by a sheet feed scanner like my Epson GT-1500 ($300). The scans can be pre or post processed using different software schemes and provide the very highest quality digital books possible.
Destructive scanning was and continues to be the best option for my needs. For the price of a flat-bed scanner with an automatic document feeder and OCR (optical character recognition) software I can turn most any book into a professional looking .pdf file that I can carry with me in my laptop or iPad. However, I have learned a few things since I first began scanning books that are worth noting that I will share in Part II.