The existence of Google books is causing some interesting ripples. Some people are now wondering whether they really need all those books in paper form. From Ancient History Ramblings I learn of this interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Digitizing the personal library:
Books take up space. That’s a problem for any librarian tasked with finding room on overcrowded shelves. It’s also a problem for a book-loving scholar who lives in a small New York City apartment with a toddler and more than 3,000 books. Under those conditions, something’s got to give. Chances are good it won’t be the toddler.
Alexander Halavais, an associate professor of communications at Quinnipiac University, found a partial solution to his city dweller’s no-space-for-books dilemma: Slice and scan. A digital file takes up a lot less room than a codex book does.
In a post on his blog, A Thaumaturgical Compendium, Mr. Halavais described what he had done to some 800 of his books so far: “First I cut the boards off, and then slice the bindings. I have tried a table saw, but a cheap stack cutter works better. Then I feed [the pages] into my little page-fed scanner, OCR them (imperfectly) using Acrobat, and back them up to a small networked attached storage device.” (See before-and-after pictures, above.) Many of the scanned books he also stores as image files. …
Read the whole article. It contains much of interest. Alex Halavais is using a Fujitsu Scansnap, although he doesn’t say which model. I use one myself, and the speed is definitely a selling point, as is the PDF output.
The comments on the article are also interesting. Some worry about whether this is allowed under copyright, although since they aren’t wealthy publishers, and probably never make any money from copyright, you have to wonder why they are rushing to defend someone else’s profit stream. But comment 27 is perhaps the most relevant:
I hope after all of the effort and expense put into this project there is a plan in place for preserving the digital files. Digital files are unstable and subject to corruption. It would be unfortunate if the drives on the networked storage device failed and Professor Halavais lost not only his printed books but the digital surrogates as well. With books on the shelf you can be assured that when you open them in 20 years the words are still the same words, without active management of the digital files this simply isn’t true in the digital world.
When I talk about digital preservation to people I often help people understand the issues by referencing things like eight track tapes, zip discs, floppy discs, Wordstar, etc.
This issue is a very real one, and I don’t know what the answer is. I myself had to throw away some old backup tapes from years gone by, being unable to persuade the old tape drive to read them. Both drive and tapes went into the skip.
The comments also link to a forum of people engaged in designing and building their own book scanners. I have not read through it all, but it is quite clear that it is not difficult to do. This is what you do with books too large for an A4 scanner.
Do we want to slice up our books? I certainly do not. But I do have quite a lot of academic books which I could really use better in PDF. It’s interesting. But scanning a book without cutting it up is very slow indeed.
The world, once again, is changing.