Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ladies and gentlemen, the amazing book digitizing machine

Last week I saw the incarnation of an amazing book digitizing machine, something that my friend Mark Grebner and I dreamed of circa 1999. This by no means is not to say that others did not imagine such a thing before us; of course they did. But it was exhiliarating to see the actualization of something so important.

Every year in June I join my wife at her professional association meeting, the Special Libraries Association, or SLA. Attendees include some smart folks: science librarians, law librarians, medical librarians, and more.

Like many conferences, SLA offers presentations and a trade show. At this year's trade show in Denver I was delighted to see this:

This is way, way, cool, even astonishing. The device has two digital SLRs aimed across each other at 45 degree angles, so as to shoot the even and odd pages at once. After the pages have been shot digitally, a robotic arm moves over, and a gentle vacuum pulls the right-hand page up and folds it over. Here's a short movie I took showing how this gizmo inhales a digital copy of a book

The company selling this device, Kirtas, is not the one serving the Google Book digitization effort. But the concept is the same, and Kirtas has a number of library customers who are scanning precious collections for preservation.

While I marveled at this device last week, Al Gore was about 400 feet away signing 500 copies of his latest book. I implored an SLA official to bring the former Vice President to see this, gizmo, as Gore once told an allegory of a schoolgirl in Carthage, Tennessee benefitting from a digital Library of Congress. Alas, his path that Sunday evening was scripted by Secret Service and event obligations. I'm sure Al Gore would've loved to see in action a device that can scan an entire book in minutes.

Mark Grebner has used consumer-grade digital cameras to digitize voter records for over 7 years now. The Kirtas device uses high-end D-SLRs to do the same, at much higher resolution, but the concept is the same.