We as a society have so much of our lives digitally, from photos to important documents such as a Will.  Just as we have made the decision to have digital copies of our personal things companies make the decisions each day on whether to keep digital copies of information.  Rare books and bound materials take up a lot of space, easily lost or stolen, the originals deteriorate and it more time consuming to go through when looking for specific information.  Throughout this article I will present pros and cons to converting these materials to digital and some options for doing so.

First of all, what does going digital mean for library materials?  For most people it is presenting material in a new, usually more “User Friendly” manner.  It starts with making them easier to “find” (locate), easier to distribute, easier to make available to patrons, less stress on the Library staff and going from “analog” to “digital”.  Once the decision to go digital has been made there are questions that need to be answered:

  • What media formats do we have now?
  • How do we want to make the information available?
  • Who is going to be responsible for that media?
  • Can we afford this at this time?
  • What is best for our patrons and our staff?

Rare Books and Bound Material

These can be digitized just like documents, by scanning and then saving to a form of media. Just as with anything else there are pros and cons to doing to digitizing your books and bound materials.

The Pro’s are as follows:

  • Saves the lives of the books
  • Multiple users have access to the “information”
  • Can be sent as email attachments without first having to make a paper print, then scan the paper print
  • Can be searched via OCR software for faster retrieval

And the Con’s are:

  • Have to go through the “transformation process”
  • Deciding on where the information will reside until needed
  • Deciding to do the work In-house versus a Service Bureau
  • In-house means getting hardware and software and peoplepower and lots and lots of time
  • Service Bureaus means having the items out of house for a time, but project may be more cost-effective and done sooner

Once the decision is made to digitize; the users then must decide on the media of storage they will use.  CD’s and DVD’s can store lots of volume in a relatively small space, duplicates are readily available, user-friendly and relatively inexpensive, but they are also unstable, not meant for long-term storage, easily stolen or misplaced, should be re-burned every 5 years or so and will the drives and technology be there in 5, 10 or 15 years to “read” them? Electronic storage is the other option and it too has advantages and disadvantages.  Its advantages are that it is easy to locate with correct software, can allow multiple users to access simultaneously, storage relatively inexpensive, can send info without making print first (or at all!) and nothing’s “lost” or “misplaced”.  As with everything there are also disadvantages, but this just has one…BACKUP the Data.  Backing up the data is very important and also testing the backups to make sure they are good.

Now we need to get the materials converted from paper to a digital format.   To begin scanning these materials an input device, retrieval software and storage are required.  The options for input devices are an overhead book scanners, flat-bed scanners or “book” type copiers/scanners.  Each of these has its own list of benefits and detriments, so we will start with the over-head book scanners.


  • Large size scanning area (@ 18” by 24”)
  • Color, Grayscale and Black & White
  • Face-up scanning
  • Removes the curve (clean, flat scans)
  • Goes deep into the spine
  • Saves on bindings
  • Can be used for document scanning
  • Outstanding quality of scans
  • Inter-Library Loans
  • 3D Scanning


  • Relatively expensive
  • Relatively slow
  • More ideal for Universities and Colleges, as opposed to Public Libraries

***Idea:  Lease the unit as opposed to outright purchase.

Flat-bed Scanners


  • Easy to use
  • Can be the most inexpensive option
  • Color available


  • Do not protect bindings
  • Do not allow for curvature
  • Do not go way into spine
  • Not very fast

“Book” type Scanners


  • Multiple Use devices


  • Bindings not protected
  • “Hang off” problem
  • Not a huge scanning area

Now that you have scanned images from your books and other bound materials, you need to be able to access those images. This is accomplished with software that is designed for that purpose.  Here are a few options for you to choose from: Single workstation retrieval application, Enterprise Content Management solution or online subscription service.

I hope this has provided you with some very valuable information that will help you to make the decision on whether to digitize your rare books or bound materials.

If you need to convert the information from bound materials or rare books to another medium, go electronic. It makes lookups easier and more patrons can access the information faster.

Just remember to BACK IT UP!

About Jen

Jennifer has over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field, which includes years of Systems Administration and Support within several different industries. She has extensive experience with OnBase, Brainware, Kofax, and SQL. When she is not supporting technology, she enjoys spending time with her two children, playing golf, and attending sporting events.