Scanning the Bible (or other books with thin pages)

There was only one place where it was possible for someone in a large family to be private, and that was in the privy. It was a three-holer, and it was where everyone went if they wanted to be alone for a while.
There was a candle in there, and last year’s Almanack hanging on a string. The printers knew their readership, and printed the Almanack on soft thin paper.
“The Wee Free Men” by Terry Pratchett

Yesterday I got a question via eMail of how to scan the bible. Yep. Didn’t saw that coming.

The person who send me the question pointed to the very thin paper and asked for the best way to do it. Or which scanner to buy for this purpose. While I’m not in the business of doing hardware tests on scanners, but I’m going to answer that question anyway as best as I can (with the occasional quip ;-)). Although perhaps not in the way this person intended. But I guess it will be useful still.

First of all, why would you even do such a thing? I’m not asking because I’m an atheist and don’t like the bible. After all, reading (parts) of the bible made me (and many others) an atheist. No, if people like to have that book digitally, go for it. It’s their decision. No, I’m asking because I would not want to waste my time on something that was already done. If there is one book that is available online in lots of different languages and versions, it’s the bible. There’s no copyright on it (as far as I know, and I’m not a lawyer, nor your lawyer), and many organizations want to … well, spread the word. So Google would probably point you to the version and translation you want. And it’s likely not only scanned, but also was proof-read. Not that unimportant considering the tiny font sizes most bibles use.

But suppose you had a bible, a very specific bible, or any other book with very thin pages that you wanted to scan. What would you do?

I have scanned a couple of books with very thin paper (encyclopedias for example) and, yeah, with a document scanner it’s a pain in the ass. On the positive side, the scanner is able to detect when pages overlap, because more than one page was dragged into the scanner at the same time. The negative side: It happens quite frequently. So you might need to feed the pages manually. It sucks, but it’s possible and after a while, you get into a rhythm that works. Watching a movie on the computer helps you to stop going crazy while you do it. Of course, if you get a paper jam, the scanner might just rip the page apart. So you have to be precise (and react quickly if a jam occurs).

But there’s a catch with a document scanner — it would require you to remove the pages from their binding, e.g., cut off the spine. I’m not religious and I don’t think that books are holy, or that certain words somehow magically make the book worthy of protection. The magic is in the words. But I do have a sense of aesthetics. If that bible was really a beautiful piece of work, it would be a pity to destroy it to scan it.

So a flatbed scanner might be the way to go. Unfortunately, there is no way you get to a similar speed as with a document scanner, even if you have to feed the pages to the document scanner manually. In comparison, when you use a flatbed, you have to manually scan both sides. And besides requiring the duplicate amount of scans, turning the pages just takes too long.

There’s also a problem if the pages are so thin that the scanner also captures some of the writing on the back. I haven’t tried it yet (don’t own a working flatbed, don’t want a flatbed), but I wonder whether a black piece of paper would help. If it’s on the backside of the page you are scanning, it could help to obscure this text on the side that should not be scanned and prevent it from being detected by the scanner. You’d probably have to adapt some scanner settings too. But I’d try that if I ever wanted to do something like it.

There’s a another choice, book scanners. Scanners made for books and books only which actually turn the pages. It would probably work, but buying one would be an overkill for most people. However, there are online services who offer to scan books. If I had such a book that I would not want to destroy and needed scanned, I might try those. Of course, if the book was really valuable on it’s own (like a historical edition), I would probably not give it to a company I knew almost nothing about.

So, these are a few ideas about scanning a book with really thin pages.