Preserving 17th-Century Documents and More with ScanSnap SV600

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Preserving 17th-Century Documents and More with ScanSnap SV600

A new day has dawned for archivists in small repositories. Scanning books and over-sized items has been tedious and difficult on flatbed scanners, to say the least. Planetary scanners are priced in the five figure range and up—well out of the reach of a low budget operation in a small organization. That has changed with the introduction of the ScanSnap SV600.

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The SV600 is a scanner that fills a specific market segment—those needing to scan books and over-sized documents. The scanner can accommodate up to 11 x 17 inch items within its field of view. Special software included with the scanner even works well at flattening the curved pages of an open book.

I have put the scanner through its paces with a variety of materials—from 17th-century documents to 20th-century volumes. Across the board, it has performed well. The software that is included is quite functional and one does not need to invest an extensive amount of time exploring the settings before achieving consistent results. Like most equipment, it is not always readily apparent how to achieve maximum performance. A small investment of time will have the scanner and software performing well and an efficient workflow created.

I scanned an oversize congregational minute book of 289 pages in about an hour. The SV600 can scan a page in about 4-6 seconds. In the case of a book that can open within the 11 x17 inch footprint, it is as simple as turning the page and hitting the scan button. The SV600 can also be configured to scan automatically after a set amount of time, e.g. a three second wait while you turn the page. My quirk is that I like to race and see how fast I can go, so I just hit the scan button as soon as I am ready.

In the case of this church book, I needed to flip the book around to have the next page scanned since the size was too large for both pages to fit the 11 x 17 footprint. But that was simple enough and the resulting workflow was easy. I tend to scan about twenty pages at a time and then go back and use the software to adjust them and flatten the curvature of the pages. This is as simple as dragging a couple of handles at the corners and edge of the page. If you are careful and place the book so that it is square with the edges, the software does an excellent job of finding the edges.

The only limitation I see, and this is a minor one, is that the output file can be either a JPEG or PDF. I prefer TIFF files and to make a PDF later. The JPEG image can be adjusted so that you have minimal compression so that is not an insurmountable problem. The PDF file is quite good and the software includes ABBYY Fine Reader, which does a good job of optical character recognition on most clean copies. If the pages are handwritten or are mottled, then the OCR will not work well (but that would be the case with any other software or equipment as well).

I also scanned some oversize correspondence from the early seventeenth century. Those pages were fragile and a bit too large for a legal size flatbed. Placing them down on the black scanner mat minimized handling and the planetary scanner did an excellent job of scanning them in a couple of seconds. A flatbed would have taken much longer and run a higher risk of damaging the original — another success for the SV600. Of course, all this applies equally to its use in the home as well. I tried scanning a few magazines to see how easy that would be. Scan, turn the page, scan, turn the page, and so on — it is as easy as that!

Ease of use, affordable price, capable software, and a well-designed workflow make this an excellent choice for archives with a limited budget. In essence, for five percent of the cost of a high-end planetary scanner, you receive ninety percent of the performance. Not a bad deal at all!

Russell L. Gasero
Archivist at Reformed Church in America