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The Internet Archive Keeps Book-Scanning Free

By Dave Bullock Write to the Author   
03.19.08 | 12:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- While Google has made headlines over the last two years for scanning thousands of copyrighted works for its Book Search project, the Internet Archive is quietly digitizing around 1,000 public domain titles every day.

For those picturing an efficient, automated process involving robotic arms and high-tech scanners, the scanning at the University of California's Northern Regional Library Facility is relatively primitive. With monastic diligence, workers sit in book-scanning stations and manually turn pages all day long.

The process is labor-intensive, but surprisingly efficient: The text collection on archive.org is the world's largest online collection of free books, with nearly 350,000 titles and growing.

And though there are high-end auto book scanners on the market, even a giant like Google is reportedly using a similar manual process due to size variance and the delicacy of old books.

It's still unclear whether the courts will allow copyrighted books scanned by Google to stay online, but the titles scanned at the Internet Archive will always be free and available. You can even order copies to be printed on demand and shipped to your home, paying only for production costs. Take the Wired.com tour of this grass-roots effort to liberate books from the confines of scarcity.

Left: The book to be scanned sits in front of a technician underneath a V-shaped glass platter. Two opposing cameras angled at each page take photos of the book. On screen is the multipage view that the operator uses to verify the quality of the scans and the book's pagination.

Photo: Dave Bullock/Wired.com

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