Digitizing Just Got Easier

Photo: Glenn Matsumura

Thinking about it would give even Sisyphus a headache. Imagine reproducing the contents of a library in digital form, scanning room after room of books one page at a time. It might take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars to do it by hand. Stanford’s newest library employee may shorten that timeframe.

Housed in the basement of Green Library, a scanning robot whips through up to 1,200 pages an hour, storing a digital image of each page in a computer database. Not only is it fast, it’s dexterous—the machine, made by 4DigitalBooks, gently turns and flattens individual pages, allowing books to be scanned without removing the binding.

Due to copyright restrictions, only a portion of Stanford’s 8 million volumes can be scanned and made available for widespread use, so the robot is currently digitizing books published by Stanford University Press and out-of-copyright collections.

The prospect of making materials available to the world via a vast digital catalog remains an enticing, though long-term, possibility. “Think about the power of bringing our library to little schools in the middle of Africa,” University librarian Michael Keller told the New York Times.