Copying Books for Preservation and Sharing

Modern technology gives us many advantages when it comes to books. Many books are available digitally as well as the old-fashioned paper or hardback copies. Book reproduction of books is also easy, quick and cost-effective for publishers.

But what about older books? Books that are more one-of-a-kind or were specially created for one-time publication such as a local history book, family history book, or a collection of various documents.

How can these books be copied or digitized without ruining or damaging the original so that they can be shared with others?

Copyright Restrictions

Before you make a copy of any book, you need to make sure you have proper permission to make copies. One very important thing to think about is who “owns” the book. Who holds the copyright? Will they grant you permission to make copies?

Public Domain

If the book can be considered public domain, meaning that it’s too old to be protected by copyrights or may have never had a copyright to begin with, you can usually copy and use it without getting permission or paying fees.

A typical copyright term is based on the life of the author and extends to 50 or 70 years beyond their death. Be sure to check on this before you make any copies.

Best practice is to make sure you cover all bases with confirming copyright ownership and permissions before making copies of any book. With copyrights, it’s never safe to just assume it’s okay or that no one will notice.

Booking Copying Technology

Depending on the age of the book to be copied, some technology is going to be a better option than others.

Options to make copies are going to range from a regular photocopy machine to a professional bookbinder/publisher.

Of course, costs and quality will vary depending on the method you choose.

Photocopier/Scanner Method

Using the photocopier/scanner or camera method is an inexpensive alternative that will not destroy or potentially damage the original book.

Do you have access to a flatbed scanner or copier machine? Using this equipment is a quick way to safely make copies of a book. Most copiers and scanners today will create .pdfs or image files (.jpg, .png, etc.) that are stored immediately in a local file or USB storage device.

With these files, you can make edits in a photo editing software program to clean up and compile a new book.

Wikihow has a great step-by-step guide for copying books. Check it out here.


Depending on how handy and steady you are with a camera, you may be able to take a picture of each page of the book then use a photo editing software program to clean up and compile a new book for binding.

For best results, you may want to set up a tripod or find some way to securely mount the camera in a specific position. Set the book so as you turn the pages for each shot, the lighting, arrangement and other factors stay consistent. Watch for glares, shadows and angles that will distort the text.

Transcription typing

If you like typing or have multiple people to help you, you may want to consider transcribing the book. This may be the most time-consuming option, but you as you transcribe, you may pick up text you’ve missed when you’ve glanced over the book which will provide you with a better understanding of the topics covered.

While this does leave room for transcription errors, it’s just typing, you can always review and edit your text later. If this book is a family story, this method will also give you a chance to add new chapters to the book!

One major roadblock to transcribing a book yourself is language and translation. If the book is in a different language, it may be difficult or impossible to transcribe. Many languages have special characters (ñ, É, Ç, etc.) that aren’t common in the English language and you can’t just substitute anything in its place.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition)

OCR technology exists to read text on images. OCR is special software the detects text and objects on a photo or .pdf file and converts it to readable and editable text.

Is it perfect? No. BUT, it’s always getting better!

If you see errors, you have the ability edit and adjust the text yourself. Trying OCR software could be less tedious than transcribing an entire book yourself.

Try this website for using OCR to transcribe images on a .pdf, .jpg, .png or other compatible file formats. Give it a try!

Adobe also has a software extension to their Acrobat .pdf program that provides OCR.

FUN FACT: Many genealogy companies that provide indexed records are testing and fine-tuning OCR software to increase indexed files available for online searches.

Printing Services

Printing companies such as FedEx Kinkos, Lightning Press, SmartPress and maybe a local print shop can print and bind your copied pages or transcribed files into a new book.

Be sure to shop around for the best price and quality desired. Make sure your printer understands the project and desired end result.

NOTE: A printer may ask about copyright permissions and could decline the job if the proper permissions haven’t been received.

Professional Bookbinder

If you want to hire a professional handle recreating and copying the book, you may need to shop around for a professional bookbinder. A bookbinder is a person who will make copies and bind the book. However, in order to do so, they may need to deconstruct the original book, thus destroying the original binding and cover.

This may provide you with the best quality copy with original touches and finish but may also be your most expensive option.

Whatever method you choose to copy a book, make sure you have a plan for accomplishing all of your goals so you can achieve your desired end result. It’s important to preserve history and books are a vital role in recording and history preservation