Research | Writing | Digital Humanities | Biblical Studies

DIY Book Scanner (intro)

I have recently decided to undertake a little do-it-yourself project: a book scanner! The final straw was pulled the other day when I needed a chapter out of a book for my research in Luke-Acts. My little scanner (Canon MX700 all-in-one) could barely fit 2 pages per copy. It took me 20 mins or so to finish. Granted, I could have done this faster at the library using their copy machine (at 10 cents per), but I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to have an electronic copy? This led me to Daniel Reetz’ DIY scanner instructions found here (see the dedicated website here). And so I’ve planned to undertake the project, with a few tweaks here and there.


The digital age has introduced new questions concerning copyright law! In my case, I must say emphatically that I do NOT plan to illegally copy and distribute copyrighted material! In any case, digitizing your own books or parts of other books should be okay, though even this interpretation of copyright law is not without dispute. has an informative article concerning book scanning and copyright issues here. The relevant excerpt:

So are Reetz and the builders of the DIY scanner pirates? That would depend on who you talk to, says Pamela Samuelson, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, who specializes in digital-copyright law. Trade publishers are almost certain to cry copyright infringement, she says, though it may not necessarily be the case.

Google was recently forced to pay $125 million to settle with angry book publishers and authors who claimed copyright infringement as a result of the search giant’s book-scanning project.

But not so individual users who already own the book, says Samuelson. If you scan a book that you have already purchased, it is “fine, and fair use,” she says. “Personal-use copying should be deemed to be fair, unless there is a demonstrable showing of harm to the market for the copyright at work,” says Samuelson.

(Samuelson’s faculty page has a plethora of resources if you’re interested in more info).

Also see the recent report from the Center for Social Media (American University):

This is because U.S. fair use, among international copyright exemptions, is uniquely flexible and adaptable. While most copyright exemptions create rules applied to specific media in specific situations, fair use establishes the right to use unlicensed copyrighted material when the social benefit of cultural creation is greater than the cost to the copyright holder. Although the law offers some general considerations, that general logic has no hard-and-fast rules; rather, reasoning is applied on a case-by-case basis, with clarity brought by interpretation within communities of creation and use. Shared interpretations become community norms, respected by judges. In turn, these interpretations in practice help shape future expectations. Thus, the U.S. doctrine of fair use creates a clear opportunity for communities to match the exemption to the practices of the field and in the process identify the specific needs of cultural actors for exemptions. These needs can in turn be shared with non-U.S. policymakers addressing copyright reform.

This report explores the link between creative scholarly decisions and copyright knowledge in communication scholarship.

Next post

In the Beginning… starting the project and the USB switch.

7 Responses to DIY Book Scanner (intro)

  1. I came across that a couple of months ago and tried doing a cheaper one before undertaking one like this. I decided to cut digitize some of my books and this seemed like a good option. In the end it was way more work and trouble than it was worth. Getting the lighting right is tough, not moving the camera accidentally, focus ( as you flip pages the book gets a little closer to the camera, file size has to be really big to get the letters focused enough to even compare to a scanner and then there’s all the imaging post processing and conversion. After a week or more I just gave up out of frustration.

    I do something else now. For paperback books I take the cover off and seperate all the pages and feed them through an all in one scanner/copier/printer that has a feed tray. And then I do a liitle post processing. When I get about $230 I’m gonna get a book scanner for hard covers and paperbacks that I don’t want to take apart. The book hangs off the side so you don’t have to bend the spine or have curved images. I’ve been pretty happy with the results. A typical book will take 4 hours but a lot of it’s just waiting.

    • I’ve seen a book scanner on Amazon like the one you’ve described, and I thought about it. At this point, I’m trying to avoid the wait time with a desktop scanner, as well as avoid taking apart books. I’ll be posting as I continue the project, so we’ll see how it turns out!

  2. I assume you have seen the “scan to email” option on many of the larger copy machines? I use that all the time! You can scan text to OCR and email it to yourself directly. My local library has this as a free option for copying.

    • Seth, I’ll have to look into my library’s capabilities in that regard. Will the copier hold scanned images (diff. pages) and send them in one email? I still think the DIY scanner will be the fastest method.

  3. josh, i think this a pretty cool project. i can’t wait to hear your updates and what you think of the endeavor when you’re finished. keep us posted

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