How to turn your bookshelf into an e-book library: Digitizing all of your books

digitizing-books-scannedSince I moved to the US, I collected around 350 books. I love books and the thought of giving them up is not a pleasant thought.

Each time I used to move from an apartment to another, the majority of boxes would be packed with books. Each time I travel somewhere for a long period, I miss being able to grab a book from my bookshelf and start reading (most of my books are old and they do no exist in digital format anyway). It is clear that I have attachment to those books.

To break this attachment, I had to make a couple of decisions. The first was whether to just forget about the books, leave them on the shelves and get myself busy with another chore. The other decision was whether to scan and /or give away the books. With that came other questions like how to scan books and convert them to eBooks, what methods to use, how much efforts would it take to convert the books, etc.

I decided to get rid of the books and the trim down on the space they occupy. For the reasons outlined later in this blog post, I chose to destructively scan my books. By scanning the books, I get a digital and searchable copy of my books (in PDF format).

In this blog post, I will share with you different ways you can use to digitize books and then the remainder of this blog post will illustrate how I destructively digitized all of my books and what tools I used.

Ways to scan or digitize books

There are two types of book scanning / digitizing:

  • Destructive book scanning
  • Non destructive book scanning

As far as scanning books, you can do it yourself (using either of the techniques) or pay someone to do it for you. For instance, you can try Blue Leaf book scanning, or the 1DollarScan. When I did my calculations, paying someone to digitize my book was not the most cost effective way to go.

Destructive book scanning

With the destructive book scanning method, the book is unbound (and most of the time in a destructive manner) before it gets scanned one sheet at a time. A paper stack cutter is used to cut the book’s spine which includes the book’s binding glue.

This is the technique I will be explaining in this article, therefore I highly recommend watching this video:


Non-destructive book scanning

In this technique, the book’s binding is not removed and the book is scanned non-intrusively two pages at a time. For this method, you can use a regular flatbed scanner and slowly scan the book.

The problem with the non-destructive/non-intrusive technique is that you need to turn the pages and this can be time consuming and dull (if this task is not fully automated).

You can be creative with this technique and devise any mechanism you want. Some people use standalone camera or their phone’s camera with timed shots and a tripod to periodically take photos while the operator manually turn the pages in between intervals.

What you need for the job

After my research, the most economic and sustainable way for me to digitize my books was to go for the destructive book scanning method. This is the fastest method and requires a budget of no more than 530$ to digitize all my books now or in the future.

Apart from needing a desktop or laptop computer to run the scanning software, you will need a scanner, paper stack cutter, cutting mat and a paper cutter.

Cutting Mat

We will use the cutting mat in order to split thick books into two or more smaller book parts (the small parts will still have the binding on). For this task, I used the “Alvin Professional Self Healing Cutting Mat GREEN/BLACK (12×18)” from Amazon for  less than 10$.

A retractable paper cutter

The cutter is used with the cutting mat to split books into smaller book parts. For this task, I used “Darice Retractable Razor Knife Set, Assorted Color” from Amazon for 8$.


An automatic feed double sided scanner

For this task, I used the “Fujitsu iX500 ScanSnap Document Scanner (PA03656-B305)” from Amazon for 400$.

From my experience, I highly recommend this scanner. I successfully scanned 30,000+ sheets on double side. No hiccups, hang-ups or headaches. This scanner works like a charm. Just make sure you open it and clean it every few books or so.

The ScanSnap scanner also comes with the free “ScanSnap Organizer” software that lets you:

  • Edit PDFs: after you scan the sheets, they go to a PDF file. You can then edit the PDF by deleting pages, reordering the pages, adding pages to existing PDF files
  • OCR: The ScanSnap scanner also comes with an OCR software that lets you convert your PDFs into searchable PDFs.
  • Organize PDFs: The ScanSnap Organizer allows you to organize PDFs on your disk to easily find them, search their contents, view or edit them.

A Desktop Paper Stack Cutter

Choosing the right paper stack cutter was the hardest thing but after my research I chose the “Professional Guillotine Desktop Stack Paper Cutter“.

When I started cutting books’ spines, I was able to cut 300 to 350 sheets all at once. However, after cutting around 15,000 sheets, I was no longer able to cut more than 150 sheets at once: it was time to re-sharpen or replace the blade.

If you don’t want to buy this guillotine stack paper cutter, then you can just use the regular paper cutter and follow the technique illustrated in the following video:


How to digitize the books

The following steps are really intuitive, I mention them just to give you hints and suggestions. I am sure that after you digitize your first book, you will refine the steps to your liking.

Step 1 – Unbinding the book

The first step is to cut off the book binding so you get all the individual sheets lose. If the book has 200 pages or less, then you can immediately cut it with the Paper Stack Cutter. However, if the book is thicker and have more than 200 pages, then try to cut the book into smaller parts. For this, use the cutting mat and the paper cutter to split the book in halves. Afterwards, take each book half and cut its spine accordingly.


After unbinding the book, you will have all the sheets that make up the book. You are now ready to scan the sheets with an automatic feed / double-sided scanner.

Because the book front and back covers are thicker than a regular book page, I advise that you scan the front and back first and individually. With the ScanSnap scanner, you will be able to put around 50 sheets at once!

Step 2 – Scanning the sheets

After unbinding a book, you are ready to scan it:


Test how your scanner works and what direction you should feed it the sheets. Usually, you take the sheets with the first page facing you, then you put the sheets upside down into the scanner with the first page facing the back of the scanner (not facing you).

Because of the ScanSnap Organizer software, you don’t have to worry much if you mess up. You can always edit the PDF, fix the situation and re-scan the papers that did not go through and add them back.

When you are done scanning the book, go over the final PDF and clean it up:

  • Delete empty or unwanted pages
  • Fix pages orientation: if the scanner has a “auto-detect orientation” setting and it was turned on, then there’s a probability that the scanner will flip some pages by mistake. I would advise that you turn off the auto-detect orientation feature if you are certain that the pages are fed properly to begin with.
  • Make the PDFs searchable: depending on the scanning software suite, you can also run the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software on the PDF to make it searchable. This step can take a lot of time depending on how many pages are in the book.

Now that we have destroyed the physical books but have digital copies, I want mention something very trivial but very important:

If you don’t backup your newly scanned books and you lose the PDFs, then you lose all your books. Unlike the physical book copies, you can easily lose everything to a failed hard drive, accidental deletion, a computer virus or ransomware!
Treat those PDFs as you would treat your other unique digital belongings (family photos, vacation photos, etc.).
Bottom line: keep backups!


Step 3 – Storing your eBooks in the cloud

The best thing about digital property is that it can be easily transferred, duplicated, backed up and accessed from anywhere. That is the #1 benefit of scanning the books and digitizing them.

The simplest way to make your books available from everywhere is to store them in the cloud. You can use Google Drive, iCloud from Apple, OneDrive from Microsoft, Dropbox, etc. Additionally, you can also email yourself some of the PDFs and keep them in your mailbox.

Further more, you can send the PDFs to your Kindle reader with software such as “Send to Kindle for PC” from Amazon.

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3 Replies to “How to turn your bookshelf into an e-book library: Digitizing all of your books”

  1. Great post! If you don’t mind my asking, how long — from start to finish — did it take you to cut, scan, and store (i.e. in the cloud) the stack of books shown in the first photograph using the process you’ve described here?

    I ask because, for me, the $99.00 — plus the cheapest shipping options I can find — that I pay 1 Dollar Scan (by far the cheapest of the services you mention above) to digitize a box or two of books containing 10,000 pages total is worthwhile because it saves me *time*. In my experience,*lots* of time. Since I don’t maintain a constant 1 Dollar Scan membership and instead sign up for a single month’s Platinum Membership only when I have 10,000-pages-worth of books that I know I’m going to need for research and/or teaching, I consider 1 Dollar Scan’s pretty modest fee a labor cost that I’m totes happy to fork over in order to free up my time for the other aspects of my work — i.e. writing, developing classes and course material, conducting archival research, etc. Heck, I’m even willing to eat the cost of the optional ‘High Quality Touch-Up’ service that 1 Dollar Scan offers: having spent far too many hours fiddling with pages in my DIY scanning projects (I have a Fujitsu ScanSnap i1300) in order to get the pages straight enough to render OCR properly, I’m thrilled that 1 Dollar Scan is on-hand to essentially serve as a paid research assistant for yours truly.

    I cut my own hair. I don’t own a car or a smart phone. I don’t take expensive vacations. I add HBO to my Roku’s $20/Mo. SlingTV subscription only during Game of Thrones season (and spend the rest of the year crying because I miss John Oliver). Virtue seemingly intact, I justify my 1 Dollar Scan forays as reasonable expenses. But if you tell me that you whizzed through the stack of books in the first photo above in a non-prohibitive amount of time, I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been living in a (spendy) fool’s paradise. …

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