Project Digitize It All: The Aftermath

A while ago I announced the start of a digitization project for my personal collection. At this point, the project is over and there are some valuable lessons to be learned. In this post I focus on why I chose to do it myself using a simple set-up. Put differently, here I briefly go over some of the options that were available to me and give notes on why certain options were unsuitable.

The different digitization options for a personal collection are four:

  1. Outsource it to a company.
  2. Personally use a commercial or home-made book scanner.
  3. Use a simplified set-up to photograph books.
  4. Use a big office copier/scanner as OCÉ or Xerox make them.

As I see it, there are six aspects pertinent to digitization.

  1. Speed.
  2. Quality
  3. Need for postproduction editing.
  4. File size.
  5. Ease of use.
  6. Price.

With #4 I have a lot of experience. When I am in a library, this is my preferred weapon of choice. It scores well allround, being free, with a speed of 7-9 seconds per 2 pages, reasonably small file sizes, and only a little need for postproduction editing, to stitch different files together and cut black borders. Its easy of use is, however, the lowest of all options. You will definitely feel your wrist, arms, and back when you do this too long.

Since I wanted to scan all my hard copies, I deemed this option too uncomfortable and also a bit slow.

Option #1 I spent some time investigating. There are companies out there that digitize archives, and some do seem to take on smaller jobs like a personal collection of 200+ volumes. It would require no postproduction editing and I can only assume the quality and file size are in order. Its ease of use should be clear. However, its price is very high. With only 200 books of 300 pages each, you are still looking at 60.000 pages. I have seen offers as high as €0,20 per page (scanning and editing together), which would bring the cost to a whopping €12.000,-! Even if somehow I could bring back the price to €0,02 per page, the costs would still total €1.200,-, which is for a personal collection a rather steep price.

I would have really liked to try #2. At McGill University I witnessed first hand a commercial book scanner. These things are super fast. They have a cradle in which the book lies. Two DSLR cameras hang on either side, both ready to photograph one page. Special lightning is in place. The real magic lies in the automatic page turner, which relies on blowing air against the pages and using small suction cups. Once activated the scanning goes incredibly quick with only little harm done to the book.

Hobbyists have been trying to recreate such machines in low-cost set ups, the most notable example being DIY Book Scanner. These machines are, however, not easy to make and are heavy in operation. I also suspect that speed is not all that great.

For these reasons I eventually came to the conclusion that I should come up with a simpler version of a DIY Book Scanner. I will detail my experience in using a DSLR Camera to scan books in a next post.

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