Sunday, April 29, 2007

Digitization Gear

Increasingly, we need to get images and texts into digital form. Here are some methods of doing this. As far as I know, everything out there is either based on use of some form of scanner or digital camera, each of which has its merits.

All or most of us have used some sort of scanner. The results are usually good, but the process is slow and it can be really hard to position a heavy art book on the scanner while simultaneously using the scanner software. Some special-purpose scanners include:

The Plustek OpticBook is designed specifically for scanning books. How? The scanning surface goes all the way to the edge of the scanner and it's designed to scan the book page without getting a dark or fuzzy edge near the gutter. This scanner is extremely popular with students who use tablet computers, as they can easily (although not all that quickly) scan their textbooks and no longer have to carry them. It's a relatively inexpensive scanner and hasn't gotten stellar reviews for image quality, but it appears to be good enough for most purposes. It is probably not large enough to handle the really big art books.

The Digital Sender is a spiffy machine that will rapidly take your photocopies and make PDF files from them. I believe this is what the University of Pittsburgh library uses to create its electronic reserve readings. The quality depends on the original photocopy, of course, but I've been very much impressed with the results after using it to digitize hundreds of pages of photocopied articles. I recommend using Acrobat's Capture feature on the resulting PDFs so that the text will be searchable and highlightable. Anyone teaching a course at Pitt is eligible to use the Digital Sender at CIDDE. My guess is that other schools also have these magic scanners.

Camera-based tools include:
ATIZ offers BookDrive DIY, a setup that cradles the book and uses two digital cameras to produce the images. Their website describes it as "fast, affordable and upgradable." It looks as though this is a variant on the old-style camera stand, but designed specifically for getting good results from books. Both cameras go simultaneously, and you see your results on the computer screen. It comes in two sizes and I think you supply your own cameras and computer. At 35kg/77lbs this is not a very portable solution, but could be a good departmental purchase.

Snapter, a new software from ATIZ, is designed to turn photos from your digital camera into usable documents. Among other things, it claims to flatten curled pages, improve lighting, and save in various formats. If Snapter does all it claims, it will be a boon to those of us who photograph books or bound periodicals at libraries and archives. For example, I've photographed historic bound periodicals, some of them with rather tight bindings, and plan to use some of them for class exercises in visual literacy. (Students examine two or three periodicals in a language none of them is likely to know, and analyze the editorial direction and readership from the design.) An early review indicates it has trouble working with musical scores, so it may not be ideal for pages that are mostly art, but test results on text seem to be satisfactory. Snapter offers a 14-day free trial and is $49 otherwise.

Note: I subsequently tested Snapter version 1.03.04 on book photos, results of which can be seen elsewhere. Art reproductions did not pose a problem, but other things did.

Another note: It looks as though ABBYY FineReader Professional may be the way to handle documents photographed with a digital camera. This OCR program, which is multilingual, can now create searchable PDF files from digital photos. Perhaps less useful for teaching than for research, but I can't wait to try this!

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