How to digitize textbooks yourself

Chop and scan those babies

For those with way more time than money — and a tolerance for tedium — here’s a condensed list of ways to digitize textbooks when you can’t find the e-book versions.

Beware, though: Some of this is for geeks only.

Option #1: Textbook Scanning Services

There are several online services that will scan a textbook and return a PDF document of its contents. To scan three textbooks totaling 1956 pages for this upcoming semester, non-destructive scanning in color would cost me $218.

Option #2: Build a Book Scanner

Once built, these scanners take pictures of each page of the book you wish to digitize using two tethered cameras. The cost of the hardware is the greatest downfall to this method, although if you want to keep your textbook intact this is the way to go.

Option #3: Chop & Scan

If you’re comfortable with cutting up a textbook, running the pages through a scanner with an automatic document feeder is by far the cheapest method to digitize a textbook.

The author concludes:

At the end of the day, the convenience of reading textbooks on your computer at home, eBook reader on campus, or your smartphone while waiting for the bus is well worth it.

I admit that I’m skeptical about whether convenience of reading texts digitally — assuming that’s your thing — outweighs the hassle of digitizing. The biggest pain for me in grad school was the time wasted — hours and hours — photocopying reading material. I have a hard time thinking this is much different. But I suppose the value will depend on your tech skills and schedule.