Book ripping: no violence done to actual books


Project Gutenberg started it. Google does it on a large scale. Maybe your department library should do it on a small scale? What is it? Book ripping.

Fear not, librarians—it’s not what it sounds like! `Ripping’ here means digitizing, in the same sense that one can `rip’ music from audio CDs into MP3s.

Preparing for a recent trip, I found myself in the library photocopying chapters of books that I already own so that I could carry a lightweight version to read on the train. Let’s face it: textbooks are heavy.

With the Amazon Kindle (and to some extent the Eee), e-Books have became an interesting prospect once again. (Simon also recommends the iLiad for academics; for now both are out of my price range.) We already carry around e-prints on our computers, why not books?

The knee jerk answer, of course, is that most people prefer having an actual book hold in their hands. One can jot notes in the margins, highlight, flip easily back and forth between pages, and so forth. However, when you just want to look up a handy calculation or reference a memorable argument, it might be very nice to have a digital copy of one’s books for easy access. This would be an answer to the burden of slogging one’s favourite mathematical methods book when doing a detailed calculation at a cafe… or shuttling copies of Weinberg to and from one’s office when you want to do some bedtime reading at night. [1]

To this extent, a company called Atiz has developed a `consumer’ book scanner that uses digital cameras to output pdfs (news via Engadget). The company suggests this could be the first step to digitizing books and then processing them with OCR (`optical character recognition’: image to text). From here, one could imagine applying budding text-to-speech technology to convert the text into an mp3 that one can listen to while jogging. [2]

There are issues, of course, with copyright and distribution. All the same, the Atiz ripper would be a welcome tool at my university [physics] library. (By the way, the heavy-duty industrial book scanners are also quite a spectacle to see in action.)


[1] Random note: I have a copy of Weinberg’s three volumes for bathroom reading. Is that too `too much information’ for a public blog?

[2] By the way, try playing with the accents on at&t’s text-to-speech demo.


5 Responses to “Book ripping: no violence done to actual books”

  1. 1 hwasungmars

    Even though, Srednicki is still my favorite, I have started to read Weinberg, too. Hope I could get some insight on ghosts, BRST, and SUSY.

  2. 2 Jonathan Powell

    I’m really excited about a device like the Kindle. I’d probably buy one today if they were available for the UK market. In this day and age of trying to save paper resources I would happily buy novels and things I’m likely to read only once in e book format, while for textbooks and other reference books, it makes sense to have a physical copy.

    I think it will be an exciting few years as e-ink technology advances, and companies like Amazon push out their service further worldwide. Technology like this will hopefully get rid of the problem of not being able to obtain rare or out of print books, with e books there just aren’t any significant production and distribution costs.

  3. Hi Flip,
    your previous post got me thinking about the Asus eee, and last week I bought myself one as a late christmas present. I’ve managed to get tetex, Mathematica and Cadabra running, so as soon as my extra sd card and RAM arrives it’s going to be my primary computer! When I’m at work I can plug it into my monitor, and outsource any heavy calculations. There’s a bit of mucking around to get it all working, as it uses a “unionfs” to protect itself from idiots, but the user forums and wiki are really helpful.

    Last year I also found myself digitising my notes and some relevant chapters to take with me to SUSY07, just in case I had time to work!

  4. What a great device. I scanned several books using a regular scanner, having this scanner would have saved me a few hours. One way to get this into your university might be to lobby the Office of Disabilities. My uni has one, and they get federal funding to make reading materials accessible to blind students. There’s apparently a provision in US copyright law that allows scanning of whole copyrighted books when the publisher doesn’t make an electronic version available (which they usually don’t)

  5. Apparently cheapest model is $1500. However, from description, it looks like scanning is slow — you have to lift the glass plane and flip the page manually, so this is probably slower than scanning a book using existing flatbed scanners (perhaps with higher quality)

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