And now for something completely different.
What is it that burdens academic scholars (and researchers too, may Zeus bless them) more than anything else? Is it the quasi-mystical search for tenure? No. Paltry college salaries? Close, but no cigar. No, what burdens academic scholars and researchers more than anything else, the literal impedimenta of Roman times, is books. Try moving a personal library, indispensable to your work of course, every other year and you know what I mean. I imagine many of you reading this blog have had the experience. How many boxes does it take to move 2000 books? If the boxes are big, you can’t carry them; if small, they seem to multiply beyond number, and some are always missing when you arrive at your next low-paying, non-tenure track job. Or you have a trail of boxes of books, stored in friends’ garages, which stretch out behind you, waypoints of your wilderness travels.
Now there is a solution. A very simple one. You have your library scanned onto a set of DVDs, or put onto an external hard drive. I have a 2 terabyte external hard drive from Western Digital that I bought for $110 which is the size of a deck of playing cards. Many estimates claim that 2 terabytes of storage would hold 2 million books. So electronic book storage is not the problem. Far more costly is the transition from paper to digital formats. For sure there are book scanning services. The least expensive of these services require that the spines be cut off the books. Even then, the price per 300 page book runs from $3 to $8. This is an expensive way to go, and you still will probably want to keep rare, out of print or cherished books in your collection, and not send them off to be de-spined. (The thought of sending any of my books off to be de-spined gives me the creeps. It’s like sending my dog off to be beheaded.)
Now there is a good person from the Free Internet Movement named Daniel Reese who has designed, built, tested, re-built and retested a Do It Yourself Book Scanner. Naturally, the plans, assembly instructions, parts lists and numerous guiding videos, plus a DIY BookScanner forum are available free on the website. Or, you can purchase a kit, sans camera, for $495. Factoring in a cheapish camera for around $200 (Canon PowerShot is popular among people who build this) and the total cost of your apparatus is $700. Not counting your time (which is of no concern for a scholar), this brings the cost per book of a 2000 book library to $0.35 per book. And they don’t have be be de-spined.
The implications of scanning your books onto electronic media are profound. No longer will you suffer the partial lobotomy brought on by leaving some or all of your library behind. Your library will be on an external drive the size of a deck of playing cards, or on CDs or DVDs, or even in the cloud. (We STRONGLY recommend having your library stored in multiple places.) You are free to move anywhere in the world, and take your library with you! And, as this idea spreads, as it is likely to, you will be able to trade or lend books very quickly to scholars anywhere. Best of all, when you go, you can bequeath your DIY Book Scanner to a friend. Spread the love.
Which will it be? This large truck… or
this 2 terabyte external drive which will hold 2,000,000 books and fits easily into your pocket?
While we’re young,
let us rejoice,
Singing out in gleeful tones;
After youth’s delightful frolic,
And old age (so melancholic!),
Earth will cover our bones.