This is an update to an article I published last year. I have changed hardware since then and have updated my procedures. This article reflects those changes.I keep my computers and genealogy material in a small room at our house. I am sure the folks who built the house intended this room to be a child's bedroom, but there are no children in the house, so I have converted it into something I call "my office." I bet many people reading this article have done the same with a spare room in their homes.
I have several computers, two printers, and a 27-inch wide monitor in this room, along with two VoIP telephones, a fiber optic Internet modem, a wi-fi router, oversized hi-fi speakers connected to the computers, and a few other pieces of hardware. Luckily, those are all rather small, and advancing technology results in smaller and smaller devices appearing every year. I occasionally replace aging hardware, and the newer devices are almost always smaller than the old ones. However, I have a huge space problem: books and magazines.
"My office" has two four-foot wide bookcases that are each six feet tall, along with two smaller bookcases and a four-drawer filing cabinet. Pam and I share this "office," so we have two desks, each laden with computers and printers. We squeeze a lot into a ten-foot-by-twelve-foot room.
I don't want to count how many books I have purchased over the years, but I am sure it must be several hundred volumes. I don't want to even think about the bottom-line price. I only have space in my four bookcases to store a tiny fraction of them; the rest are stored in boxes in the basement. Out-of-sight books are books that I rarely use. "Out of sight, out of mind." I probably wasted my money by purchasing all those books as I rarely use most of them. I may have looked at them once but I rarely go back to them again and again.
While four bookcases sounds like a lot of storage space, I filled them all years ago with books, magazines, software boxes, and stacks of CD-ROM disks. I don't have room for any new purchases unless I first remove some of the items I already have and move them to boxes in the basement. In fact, I rarely do that.
My newly-purchased books and all the genealogy magazines I receive end up being stacked on the floor, on my desk, and in most any other nook or cranny I can find. The place is out of control, and I realized that I needed to find a solution. "I used to have a desk, and I am certain that it is still here... someplace. I think I saw it last year."
Randy Seaver summed the problem up nicely last year:
"My under-window bookcases groan under the weight of about 15 years of NEHGR and many other journals and magazines. My piles fall over sometimes. There is no more room! I welcome electronic distribution of magazines and newsletters! I have a lot more hard drive and flash drive space than physical space, and I can take the electronic versions with me on a flash drive. Not to mention saving publishing and mailing costs."Indeed, as Randy suggested, I prefer to obtain all new magazines in electronic format. Not only are they easier to store, but they are also easier to search. I only keep old books and magazines because I might want to look something up in the future. Of course, my computer can find words inside electronic files much faster than my fingers and eyeballs can find anything in the printed pages of hundreds of books and magazines. Many times I have said to myself, "I read an article about that a few years ago. Now, where was that article?" A search on a hard drive will find the information within seconds, but a manual search of books stored in boxes in the basement is rarely successful. Depending on the file format used, I can often find specific words or phrases inside a few thousand files within seconds. Try doing that with printed books!
However, magazines are the smaller problem. My biggest problem is books, hundreds of them. I cannot afford to go back and repurchase all of the books again in electronic format. What should I do?
I mulled that question over for quite a while before I realized that there were only two possible solutions:
1. Get a larger houseI cannot afford the first solution, so I went with the only option left: digitize the existing books and all future acquisitions. The decision became easier when I purchased a Neat Receipts for Macintosh Mobile Scanner.or2. Digitize the existing books and all future acquisitions, then get rid of the printed material
You can read about the Neat Receipts for Macintosh Mobile Scanner at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/04/a-neat-scanner.html.
I am now in the process of cutting apart every book and magazine that I own and scanning every one of them. It is a tedious process. I am performing this task on a "time available" basis. I try to scan 50 or more pages a day, but I must admit that I haven't been able to do that every day. In the past year, I have only managed to digitize about ten books and maybe 50 old magazines. At the rate I am going, the project will take many years to accomplish. However, I feel that I have no choice. In a few years I expect to retire, and I don't want to think about "downsizing" by moving into smaller living quarters. If I don't start solving this problem now, I will face a far larger problem within a very few years.
The primary reasons that I have not yet been able to scan many books and magazines are: (1.) time required and (2.) the speed of the scanner. The Neat Receipts for Macintosh Mobile Scanner is a great device but it was never designed for speed. Also, I need to insert the pages one at a time. I need something faster and something that has an input tray that will accept a stack of pages. I plan to speed up the process by obtaining a faster scanner that also scans both sides of a page in one pass.
I believe there are no copyright issues involved, even with the new material. I am making copies solely for my personal use and have no plans to ever share any of these digital files with anyone else. Current U.S. copyright laws allow for making copies for one's personal use, and I think most other countries have similar provisions. I can legally share electronic copies of out-of-copyright printed books, but anything that still falls under copyright laws will always be used solely for my own personal use.
I must admit that I had emotional difficulties when I first cut the pages out of some of my "valuable" books. That is, those that I felt were valuable, regardless of their actual replacement cost. Cutting pages out of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register or out of that family surname book that I paid $150 to purchase years ago is a gut-wrenching experience. Even tougher is the prospect of throwing the pages out in the trash after they have been scanned. However, I really feel I have no choice: I cannot afford the storage space. The emotions subside after cutting apart the first three or four books.
One trick that I learned recently concerns the many out-of-copyright reprinted books that I own. Before cutting them apart, I first look on Google Books to see if Google has already scanned a copy of the same book and made it available online. If so, I simply click on DOWNLOAD PDF and save the entire book to my hard drive, then I simply throw away the printed book that I have.
Local libraries don't seem to want these cut-apart books; they already have space problems of their own and are already throwing away lesser-used books by the hundreds. The last thing they want is more old books, especially if the book is already available in electronic format on Google Books. So far, Google has had about half of the out-of-copyright books that I have checked. Major genealogy libraries typically don't want the books either as they already have copies of the books that I am digitizing.
There are a handful of books that I will never cut apart: the family Bible printed in 1828, the autobiography of Lorenzo Dow published in 1838, my high school yearbook, and a very few others. However, the remainder of them are being sliced. I don't hesitate to slice magazines or reprinted books. I have an Exacto knife for the purpose. I refer to this process as "meeting the guillotine."
When I receive a new genealogy magazine in the mail, I now read it for the first time WHILE I am cutting the pages apart and feeding them into the scanner.
Obviously, I also have to make sure these documents are well preserved in their digital format. Can you imagine the emotions if I spent hundreds of hours scanning several hundred old books and then threw the originals away, only to have a hard drive crash?
In fact, I keep a MINIMUM of four copies: the original copy is kept on the Macintosh's hard drive; a backup copy is kept on a one-terabyte external hard drive that plugs into the Mac's USB connector; a second backup copy is kept on a 32-gigabyte USB "jump drive;" and a third backup copy is kept on an off-site backup service on the Internet that automatically backs up any new files or newly-changed files from the Mac's hard drive once an hour.
Right now I am also keeping a fourth copy on my laptop computer and a fifth copy on another computer in my office by using a middle-of-the-night process that automatically copies files across my in-home network. I am not sure if I will continue with the fourth and fifth copies, however. If those disk drives fill up, I might reconsider the process. A "belt and suspenders" approach is a good idea, but I am not sure that I need two belts and two sets of suspenders! I make fourth and fifth copies right now simply because I happen to have the disk space available.There is an unexpected side benefit: the jump drive slips into a pocket and is barely noticeable there. When I go to genealogy conferences, to a library, to a courthouse, or to a cousin's home, I am carrying my entire digitized library with me. My present jump drive has sufficient space to store hundreds of books and magazines. Someday I will have my entire library with me in my pocket, although that might require two or three jump drives at today's technology. On the other hand, jump drive capacity is likely to continue growing faster than I can scan old books. If I want to check a book or magazine that is in my home library, I can pull a jump drive out of my pocket, insert it into my laptop or a friend's computer, and check on it quickly. In contrast, can you imagine carrying around my entire library of printed books and magazines?
If copyright laws allow, I can even provide legal copies of an entire book to a friend by simply clicking and dragging a file onto my friend's computer or by sending it to him or her in e-mail. I can legally do so with the out-of-copyright books that I own.
Converting one's library to all digital files can be a gut-wrenching task. Slicing “valuable” books is an emotional challenge. However, it has been my conclusion that I have little choice. I simply have no room for any more books or magazines. Heck, I don't even have enough room for the ones I already have! If I am to "downsize" upon retirement, I need to start downsizing the physical size of my library now!
How about your collection of books and magazines? Do you have them all neatly stored and organized? Can you find what you want quickly? How about future purchases? Where will you put those? Finally, what are your retirement plans?