Now more than ever, people are looking for ways to digitize books. Whether you’re looking to submit some ancient text to the public domain or wish to eliminate your physical book collection, we’ve got you covered.
Digitization should give you a more accessible, crisper version of the physical text you have on hand. Here is our failsafe process for digitizing text and imagery.
What You Need
- Computer or Laptop
- Flatbed Overhead, or Manual Book Scanner
- Scanning Software
- OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Software
- Cutting Board
- Metal Ruler
- Cutter and Replacement Blades
- Arm paper cutter
- USB drive
- Book archiving tools
Before You Start
A Bit About Copyrights
As of 2020, printed works from 1924 and earlier may become part of the public domain. Generally speaking, a work gets 95 years of protection after its original publication date. After that, the work becomes part of the public domain. At which point, people are free to copy and distribute the material as they see fit.
With that said, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. For example, a work that has been remastered may be covered by a new copyright. Moreover, work published after 1924 may not be covered by copyright if the holder failed to renew the original copyright. Needless to say, you should work to identify the copyright standing of each work you plan to digitize.
Someone who digitizing works for personal use may not be held to the same standards as someone who digitizes and then distributes works on a much larger scale. As a general rule of thumb, you should practice due diligence when copying and redistributing someone else’s work. Otherwise, you could become wrapped up in a legal battle.
If you’re digitizing a limited number of pages, an ordinary and inexpensive flatbed scanner or printer/scanner combo should suffice. However, a scanner with an auto document feeder (ADF) will help you tackle more expansive projects more efficiently. An overhead book and document scanner may also help you speed things along while maximizing the quality of your scans.
Here’s what you need to look out for when selecting a scanner for your book digitization project:
- Scanning Resolution: You should always scan images and text at the same resolution they were printed. While a scanner with an image resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) is suitable for capturing standard black and white text, a scanner with an image resolution of 600 DPI will capture and preserve more detail.
- Software Compatibility: There seems to be an ever-growing variety of book digitization software and apps. You’re going to want to find a scanner that’s compatible with your target scanning software. Check out this article to see Tech Radar’s selections for the top scanning software of 2021. Keep in mind that scanning software dictates how files are stored. You’ll have to decide if you prefer your digitized books as PDF files, universal files, word documents, etc.
- Page Turning Capability: If you’re tackling a heavy volume of books, you may want to invest in a book scanner with an automatic page-turner.
- Scanning Size: If you’re scanning large coffee books or textbooks, you need to be particularly mindful of your scanner’s size. A scan size of A4 (8 1/2-by-11 inches) is ideal for most book digitization setups.
Book Archival Tools
Don’t underestimate the importance of a clean, book-friendly workplace. If you’re working with particularly precious or historical text, follow these handling rules:
- Only touch the book with clean, dry hands.
- Never put excess pressure on the binding.
- Never lift pages from the bottom or top.
- Skip the refreshments. Food and drink can cause lasting and irreparable damage to the paper.
- Work slow and steady.
- Break your work up. Maintain a work log to ensure that there are no missed steps.
Step 1: Scan Books without Cutting
Once you have selected and vetted your text for digitization, you can begin scanning it. Your initial goal should be to perform the scanning process without destroying the original text. However, if this does not work, you may need to move on to Step 2. Step-2 is semi-destructive and involves pre-cutting.
If you do not plan to chop your book before scanning, you will only be able to use a flatbed scanner, an overhead scanner, or a manual scanning device. The process will take longer than it would if you were to chop and scan your text. However, you will be able to preserve the original text. That, in and of itself, should motivate you to give this method a try.
Start by preparing the book for scanning. Remove inserts and bookmarks. Wipe away dust, dirt, and grime. Place your book of choice on the scanner bed. Be careful not to put excess pressure on the binding. Keep your scan screen up and refreshed so that you can check the quality of your scans as they are processed.
Devices like the IRIScan Book 5 promise tear- and cut-free scanning color and black and white scans. This kit includes a scanning program, a mini USB cable, ORC software, and a 4-GB microSD card. You slide the bookmark-sized scanner over the page to produce digitized full-page scans in no more than 1.5 seconds.
Another popular alternative to traditional flatbed scanners is the Icodis Pro. The Icodis is an easy-to-use overhead book scanner. While book digitization products such as this are helpful, they are not always worthy investments. Overhead book scanners retail for anywhere from $200 to $2,000. Mega-pixel and picture quality vary greatly between models.
If you’re really in a pinch, you might consider purchasing or making a scanning bin. While this technology is nothing more than a cardboard box, it enables users to convert their smartphones into overhead scanners. It goes so far as to control the background, lighting, and positioning of the scanning images. There are plenty of free scanning apps, including:
- Genius Scan: A document scanning app that lets you create multi-page PDF files. It is available through Apple apps.
- Mobile Doc Scanner: A free mobile scanning app that is available through the Google Play Store.
- Adobe Scan: A complete scanning suite available for Androids and iOS phones.
- CamScanner: It’s a mobile app that offers easy scanning, sharing, and file management. It offers accurate OCR text extraction and allows you to convert files to PDF, Word, Excel, PPT, and image.
Step 2: Scanning Books After Pre-Cutting
Whole-book scans don’t always turn out right and sometimes aren’t even worth the hassle. A little pre-cutting can save you a sizable amount of time and effort. Here’s how you can get started chopping up a book.
Setup Your Cutting Station
If you’ve decided to cut your books before scanning, you need to set up an isolated cutting station. You’ll need:
- Large cutting board
- A metal ruler
- A craft or utility knife
- Several replacement blades
- Optional: Paper-cutting Guillotine
- Auto-Feed or Other Scanner
Try to set your cutting station apart from your scanning station, as cutting tends to produce a lot of free-flying dust and debris. These tiny particles can hurt your devices and scans. Consider keeping a handheld vacuum on hand so that you can stay on top of any potential mess.
Remove the Cover
Take care to remove the cover before you begin chopping up the pages. Place your book on a cutting board or other slip-resistant surfaces, such as the rug seen here. Hold the pages to one side. Then, run your utility knife in the crevice between the book cover and pages. Keep in mind that the rear and front pages of paperback books are typically glued directly to the exterior cover. Once you have used your knife to sever the connection on both sides, you should be able to pull the cover away from the book pages manually.
Check out this video to see just how quickly and easily you can remove a book’s binding:
Separate the Pages
Now, open the book into the center and place your blade into the crease. Hold both sides down, apply pressure to the pages, and cut from the top down. Depending on the book’s thickness and the quality of the paper, you may need to repeat this process multiple times.
Collect the two clusters of pages and place them in order. Then, manually pull off each page start with the last.
Remove Rough Edges
Once you have separated all the pages, it’s time to do some trimming. An arm cutter is a relatively inexpensive investment piece. It enables you to line up paper stacks for precise trimming. A quality arm cutter can slice through anywhere from 15 to 50 sheets of paper at one time.
Scan Loose Papers
Now that you’ve taken the time to separate and trim each page of the book, you’ve earned yourself a shortcut. Place your ordered pages into the tray of an auto-feed scanner. If you do not own and do not wish to buy an auto-feed scanner, you might use the scanner at your local library, office supply store, or print center. Most public libraries allow patrons to scan documents for free so long as they are only being converted into PDFs.
Step 3: Text digitization using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software enables you to convert scanned documents into editable, searchable data. ORC software can convert typed, handwritten, and photographic images to searchable PDF files for reader recognition or data entry.
ORC software uses a variety of techniques to produce readable data. It typically begins with pre-processing, in which the computer cleans up the text and images you scan to make them more readable to the computer. The software may crop, straighten zone, clarify, or isolate characters during this process. The software utilizes an OCR algorithm to identify characters, symbols, and patterns within the text. Finally, the software generated a plain text document or annotated PDF.
ABBYY FineReader PDF is an ORC software program that consolidates all the steps in optical character recognition for faster, more efficient processing.
Step 4: Save Your Files
Consider your storage options even before commencing your book digitization project. You’re going to want a safe, affordable, and accessible space for all your ebooks. Popular options include:
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Check out Book Authority’s selections for the best Network Attached Storage books of all time.
- Amazon Cloud Drive: You can use the Dropbox storage app to transform your books into high-quality PDF files. Dropbox offers various paid plans starting with a free basic plan.
- LibraryBox: This is a portable private digital distribution tool. It’s intended for the storage of shared educational, library, healthcare, and emergency response content.
- Microsoft OneDrive: Microsoft OneDrive Offers 6 TB of storage for $99.99 per year. You can use the OneDrive App to download and scan.
- Google Drive: You can download, share, and organize books with GoogleDrive.
DIY book digitization is a lot easier than it looks. If you take the care to scan and commute analog texts, you’ll be able to access, search, and even edit them from any place at any time. There’s no denying the fact that physical books tend to evoke the senses. However, digitizing empowers people to fit whole libraries on e-readers and USB cards. Of course, digitization proves to be more than a portability and storage solution. After all, it enables us to preserve rare and precious texts well beyond their physical limitations. Well-preserved digital texts aren’t suspectable to fire, mold, or mildew. Written work that has been transformed with OCR tends to uplift and enable researchers, who would otherwise spend hours manually scanning texts.
Digitization doesn’t have to represent disdain for the physical or analog. Instead, we like to think of it as a compliment and crutch to precious and defenseless paper text. We hope that our guide to digitizing books proved to be helpful to you! As always, drop your comments and questions in the section below.