Rather than ruin all the library books with photocopying…

To the local library, to collect a copy of the English translation of a Byzantine text.  The volume was a substantial hardback, with the library plate of the John Rylands Library in Manchester.  Inside the book at various points was an old train ticket fromWigan, and two trading cards from some exhibition in 2007, all presumably used as book marks.

But what struck me most was the condition of the binding.  It was very loose.

This book, to my trained eye, has been on the photocopier.  Not once, or twice, but dozens of times.  In each case the copy has been made by someone anxious that it should lie flat and thereby fit two pages onto one A4 sheet.  This saves money, but more importantly reduces the number of times the book has to be lifted and moved.  Anyone who has copied a book will know very well how the arms ache after a while!

The result is that the book is barely holding together.  Which is a shame.

Of course I intend to run the book through my scanner too.  I’ve paid a non-trivial sum to borrow it; the British lending library service now being corrupted by the greed of local councils — Suffolk, in my case — who levy “fees” under one pretext or another.  I only have the loan for a few weeks.  But I may need to consult it in future.

Which leads me to wonder … rather than dozens of people all copying the same book again and again and again … isn’t there a better way?

Wouldn’t it be better, for the book and the users, to copy it once, create a PDF, and make that available instead?  And save us all the effort of making one every time, and the book the injury of repeated copying?

In a sane world, this is what would happen.  You’d borrow the book, and get the book for a time and the PDF for good.  Some adjustment of rights and copyrights would be necessary, but it could be done.

The greedier kind of library official would try to loan you the PDF for a short time also; using something like Adobe Reader.  Which would defeat the object, of course, and would ensure that photocopying would resume.  I mention this possibility only because I can imagine it.

But really … wouldn’t it make much more sense to recognise that the library books of Britain are being copied into non-existence, and address the evident need?

4 Responses to “Rather than ruin all the library books with photocopying…”


  1. Steve Bricker

    Roger, I agree with your sentiment. Can common sense overcome the shortsightedness?

  2. Roger Pearse

    It’s a new situation, but a way short sightedness is precisely the right … not taking the time to look up from the grind to take the long view. I don’t think anyone is to blame. But we now have both a new problem and a new possible solution.

  3. Matthew Hamilton

    At the very least every book that is out of copyright should be scanned – and then locked away from general users in a purpose designed repository. After then the books should only need to be consulted if either an error or omission is found in the scan and the book needs to be partially re-scanned, or if it needs to be viewed by certain specialists who may be working on issues such as binding techniques, or paper water marks who need to see the original volumes.

    Main expense would not be the scanning but the checking – ensuring EVERY page is scanned, and the compiling of a list to identify what remains to be scanned and where they can be located.

    For books still in copyright, start scanning them now even if the scan is kept under restricted access for a few years. This will ensure that good copies will be scanned and that when the books go out of copyright the scans may be released immediately

  4. dw

    It is exactly to prevent this type of damage that I prefer to make photographs.

    In the library of the faculty of Humanities that I frequent, they have many books that have received a new cover, or where the spine has been reglued etc.

    In the library of the faculty of theology, they have a bookscanner that avoids book damage. A very popular piece of equipment…