How To Scan Old Books: Digitizing Used Books into a PDF


You might want to scan an old book to preserve it, share it online, or just to save some space on the shelf. Whatever the reason, In this article, we will explore all the different method for digitizing old books.

How to Scan Old Books? 

Old books are usually more gentle and fragile, and therefore the most important thing is to handle them with care. While digitizing them into a PDF is definitely the right thing to do, we wouldn’t want to hurt the physical copy of the book, especially if it’s really old and rare. 

How to Scan Old Books

There are a few methods you can use to scan old books, choose the right one for you depending on your needs and budget.

  1. Professional Book Scanner

If you want to scan old books, and you want to do it right, then get yourself a professional book scanner

A professional book scanner, unlike regular scanners, is a device built especially for scanning books efficiently and with high-quality. 

There are a few types of book scanners, but the most common ones have an overhead scanning camera pointing downwards to a cradle where you lay the book. All you have to do is turn the pages and hit ‘Scan’. This is the type recommended for scanning old books.

Some book scanners have a scanning speed of 2-seconds per page alongside with a ‘Page-turning detection’ which means every time you turn the page, the machine notices and immediately takes a picture. 

To learn more about a how book scanners operate you may read our guide about how book scanners work.

Unlike regular scanners, with a designated book scanner you barley touch or move the book around, so they are great for scanning fragile books. 

* If you’re a library or a book scanning business you might want to consider a fully automatic book scanner.

Advantages: Great scanning quality, easy to use scanning software, fast scanning, little effort, keeping the book intact, OCR

Disadvantages: A book scanner costs at least $100

If you wish to scan more than one book and get a high quality digital copy then this is the way to go.

  1. Book Scanning Services  

There are a variety of book scanning services that specialize in digitizing old books without hurting them.

While you can scan a book yourself, this can be an overwhelming and exhausting process if you’re doing it for the first time, not to mention a very time-consuming process.

Letting the pros do the work is never a bad idea. 

Book Scanning Services  

What book scanning services are charging is usually quite reasonable ($20 to $50 per book depending on where you go) and also means you don’t have to stress about doing it yourself. You simply send over the books, and they send it back along with a digital file in the format of your choice. 

Some book scanning services use automatic book scanners to save time and effort. If your book is very old and vulnerable you might want to mention it so the page turning will be done by hand. 

Advantages: Professional scan, no extra time or effort. 

Disadvantages: Costs $20 to $50 per book (very old books might cost more), book might damage during shipping.

If you don’t have a use for a book scanner in your house nd you have the budget to use a service, then this is a method to consider.  

  1. Public library scanners 

Another option not many consider for scanning old books is using the public library’s book scanners

Now a days many libraries have professional scanners in their domain as part of the service they provide the general public. In most of them, you can simply come over and scan the library’s books or your own books into a digital copy. Some libraries might charge a small fee. 

Check google maps for libraries in your area, might be inside  universities or colleges, give them a call and ask if they have book scanners. 

Here might be a good place to mention that books are protected under the copy right law and should be scanned only for personal use. We discuss it further in our article about book scanning copy rights

Advantages: You get to use a professional book scanner for free or for a small charge. 

Disadvantages: You will have to go to the library, might feel uncomfortable to scan a big amount of books. 

If you have a library with book scanners nearby and you don’t have an entire collection of books to scan, this is a great way to scan old books. 

  1. Smart Phone scanning

You can easily scan your book yourself using your mobile phone! In our guide about how to scan a book on your phone we describe the process step-by-step. 

Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, both smartphones have their own apps for scanning books and important documents.

Advantages: Very affordable, and you can start right away.

Disadvantages: Image quality depends on your phone camera and the lighting in the room, time consuming, a lot of work holding the phone, flipping the pages and taking a picture. 

If you only have one old book to scan and you aren’t looking to spend any money, that might be the method for you. If you have more than one or two books and you want higher-quality scan, consider the other methods on our list.  

  1. Regular Home Scanner

If you have a regular flat bed scanner at home or at the office, then that is also an option to consider. You can use it to scan pages from old books and save them as PDF files.

The issue with that is that it is time consuming and requires a lot of moving around, flipping and handling of the book, and that might not be a good idea if the book is old and the pages are not intact. 

Advantages: Very affordable, if you have you can start right away

Disadvantages: A lot of work flipping, turning the page and scanning, might hurt gentle books, image quality will not be perfect, most home scanners softwares don’t have OCR

If scanning quality is not an issue, you just have one or two books to scan and they are not rare or vulnerable then this might be the right solution. 

What Is The Best Method To Scan Old Books? 

In my opinion, the best method for scanning old books is getting a book scanner or hiring a book scanning service. That way you know your books will stay intact and you will have a beautiful digital copy of your book. 

What Is The Best Method To Scan Old Books? 

If you don’t want to spend any money on the process then try checking the nearby libraries for book scanners.

In case there are no libraries with book scanners in your area then use your phone or flat bed home scanner to scan the book. 

Reasons for scanning old books

There are a variety of reasons why you should scan old books.

Reasons for scanning old books

Scanning Preserves Them

Digitizing books preserves them, so if an old book that you’re very fond of is falling to pieces then scanning them and turning them into a digital copy prevents you from losing the contents.

Scanning Saves Space At Home And When You’re Traveling

Alongside this, scanning your books helps you save space! If you’re trying to downsize your book collection, then scanning might be the answer to all of your problems.

Digital Copies Are More Convenient To Travel With

If you don’t want the hassle of lugging multiple books around on the go, then digitizing your copies is a convenient way of ensuring all of your books are in one place.

This way you can travel with your laptop or device, and read the copies on the go without carrying around multiple heavy books!

Sharing the knowledge

Even in this digital age we’re living in, some old books are very rare and can’t be found anywhere else. Especially very old books where only a few copies lasted to this day. 

Digitizing these books and putting them online for others to read and investigate is an amazing thing to do for the sake of history and human recollection. 

How Can You Scan A Book Without Damaging It?

If the book you want to scan is so old that it’s falling a part than it would be a good idea to let a professional handle it. Try contacting a book scanning service like the ones we have on this list

How Can You Scan A Book Without Damaging It?

If it’s not falling a part, you can do it yourself, just be very gentle and use an overhead scanner and not a flatbed scanner. That way you will be touching the book as little as possible. 

To find the right overhead book scanner for your needs you may read our article about the features of book scanners and the different brands of book scanners

What Is Non-Destructive Book Scanning?

Non-destructive book scanning is when you scan a book without damaging its original condition.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean you won’t damage the paper. It just means you won’t destroy the actual content inside the book itself.

What Is Non-Destructive Book Scanning

When you scan a book using a non-destructive method, you’ll end up with a PDF file that contains the text and images within the book, but will also have the original copy too.

Destructive book scanning on the other hand is when the pages are separated from the cover and are scanned individually. In this method the book is ruined and you don’t get the copy back. 

Is Scanning Old Books Legal?

If it’s for personal use, then yes, scanning books is legal. However, if you intend to share your copy with anyone, even if it isn’t for money, then you could breach copyright laws.

Is Scanning Old Books Legal?

Always make sure that you research copyright laws before you think about sharing your digital copy. Otherwise, you could land yourself in trouble.

Final Considerations Before Scanning Your Old Book

Consider Your Budget

Weigh up how much money you want to spend scanning your book. If you don’t have that much to spend on it, then buying a brand new scanner, or using a service might not be financially viable and you should consider the other methods we suggested. 

Consider Your Budget

If you do plan to buy a book scanner you should read our article about things to consider before buying a book scanner

Consider the quality you need

Phone camera and apps or flatbed home scanners are okay for scanning books but don’t expect high-quality. 

Consider the workload

Scanning an entire book, especially if you never done it before, can be time consuming and take a lot of effort. Consider if that time and effort are something you’re willing to put in. You may read more about the process of scanning a book in our article about how to scan books.

1 thought on “How To Scan Old Books: Digitizing Used Books into a PDF”

  1. Thank you for the information. The book being considered for digital distribution is rare and a family history heirloom. The scanning will provide others with the history of Orlando Florida and Jones High School. The scanning will also provide a method for the family to keep a historical record.


Leave a Comment