Recently I needed to consult a translation of an ancient author. I don’t own paper copies of very many translations, and I never knowingly buy books that I will not read and reread. But unusually for me, I did own a copy of this volume in printed form.
However when I searched for it, it was nowhere to be found. I had to make do with translating some French version of the original that I found online.
Where could it be? After some searching, I discovered a faint memory of including it in a batch of academic books that I donated to someone, in order to free up some shelf-space. I dispose of unwanted books all the time, as anyone with any sanity must; and in fairness this is only the second book whose loss I have subsequently regretted, so I shan’t change my habit. All the same, it made me realise that I did need access to this particular volume.
Today I borrowed a library copy, and spent a couple of hours creating a PDF of the page images, with searchable text. Abbyy Finereader 12 did its usual job of scanning the pages, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 created the PDF and made it searchable.
It’s expensive to borrow by interlibrary loan, mind you. And I had to go into a library to collect them. A recent foot injury made the walk from the car park, and then the wait in a queue for service, particularly uncomfortable. Paper reference books are simply not what any of us need any more.
This sort of process – of conversion of books into PDF – must be repeated up and down the world. Students with no money, and academics with no shelf space, must convert the same reference volumes into PDFs again and again and again. Surely there ought to be a mechanism whereby this could be avoided? After all, nobody is at all likely to buy copies of this work personally, except by a fluke (as I did).