Scanner Praxis

Scanner Praxis


Scanner Praxis is a project to engage digital humanities scanning and digitization through building a low cost book scanner from parts, considering the hardware, software, and uses of such devices in DH projects, and investigating the cultural context of scanning in everything from classroom pedagogy to large scale cultural production. How does the logic of scanning shape what Amazon, Google Books, Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive are producing? What can and can’t scanning do, and how can we use scanning to think differently?

Year 1: 2012-2013

In its first year the project completed the research, assembly and testing of its first book scanner, one based on an open hardware kit developed by the community.

Call and Participants

The Scanner Praxis project was started at the UCSB Transcriptions Center in Fall 2012 by center Director Jeremy Douglass and Research Fellow Zach Horton while brainstorming projects that would combine Horton’s research interest in Digital Humanities approaches to DIY culture and Douglass’ research interest in data mining approaches to print archives.

An open call invited collaborators to join the project:

Participants in the series will learn how to build their own custom book scanners out of inexpensive materials such as lumber.

  • Surveying recent DIY (“do-it-yourself”) book scanner projects
  • Hands-on viewing of the parts of an unassembled scanner kit
  • Learning how to build your own custom book scanner out of inexpensive materials
  • Construction of a fully functioning, fast, non-destructive book scanner for practical use.

In addition to creating a practical resource for actual use, this project may interest graduates and faculty for a number of reasons:

  • Understanding the designs and labor workflows that are used by high-volume book digitization projects such as Internet Archive and Google Books.
  • Applying scanning to your own work!

After an open call for collaborators, participants organized into a peer research group. Graduate student participants in the first-year phase included Zach Horton, Lindsay Thomas, Liz Shayne, Marcel Brousseau, Ashley Champagne, and Patrick Mooney.

Research Structure

In order to make strategic decisions, the Scanner Praxis team needed research the many design choices involved in creating a digital book scanner. It divided into smaller sub-groups with an organizing lead, each of which did independent research and reported to joint meetings.

  • Software (lead: Jeremy Douglass)
  • Cameras (lead: Lindsay Thomas)
  • Triggers (lead: Liz Shayne)
  • Platen (lead: Macel Brousseau)

Currently, the first DIY scanner to be built by Scanner Praxis was intended for use in exploring materially unusual literature (cut-out and excised-word novels, looseleaf novels, poster-format literature) and for work with the Demian Katz Gamebook Collection recently acquired by UCSB Special Collections. However, it will also intended as a general resource for the UCSB English Department and the campus community, with participants encouraged to bring their own projects and ideas.


After initial materials were researched and sourced by the groups, phases of scanner construction were spread out over a series of about a dozen 1-2 hour sessions held in the Transcriptions lab over the course of the year. These session were documented by Douglass in a time-lapse video:

Building a Book Scanner (time lapse) — Scanner Praxis

This time-lapse video documents the construction of a DIY Book Scanner at the UCSB Transcriptions Center by the Scanner Praxis project team. It was recorded during a series of sessions from Fall 2012 – Spring 2013.

Clips show the team assembling the lower frame and lifting mechanism; building the rolling tray for holding the book; building the top frame for securing the glass platens, light, and cameras; attaching the glass and testing the lifting mechanism; painting the wood with matt black (to reduce glare); assembling a light hood out out of a modified clothes rack and drop cloth; and finally testing the assembled equipment with computer-connected cameras.

The time-lapse video records seven different building sessions spread out over several months. Not all sessions were captured — notably, camera, computer software and wiring sessions to test installation of different styles of triggers (handle-mounted, foot pedal) and different methods of software capture (to SD card, over-cable).

Each session was recorded at a speed of 1 frame every 5 seconds. The recordings were made using a Logitech USB webcam mounted on the ceiling of the lab and Gawker for OS X. They were then edited and combined in iMovie.

Results — Year 1

At the conclusion of the first year, the scanner was complete, tested and operational. Several changes to cameras and to the software setup were planned in order to speed up reliable operation, making the scanner more useable for large jobs and usable / accessible to non-specialists.

In the following video, Zach Horton discusses the project as part of the UCSB English Department’s Graduate Outreach initiative:


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