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NDSU student's book scanner inspires spinoffs around world

North Dakota State University graduate student Daniel Reetz is attracting worldwide attention for a do-it-yourself book scanner he invented. The 28-year-old created the scanner a year ago out of cheap digital cameras and materials from the Dumpst...

Daniel Reetz
Daniel Reetz is attracting attention worldwide for his do-it-yourself book scanner. This is the third model the North Dakota State University graduate student has created. It can be disassembled in five minutes to fit in carry-on luggage.

North Dakota State University graduate student Daniel Reetz is attracting worldwide attention for a do-it-yourself book scanner he invented.

The 28-year-old created the scanner a year ago out of cheap digital cameras and materials from the Dumpster because he couldn't afford textbooks.

Now people around the world are building their own scanners after Reetz produced a detailed how-to guide and developed an online forum.

The uses range from historical societies preserving documents to people with disabilities converting books to a format they can use.

Reetz was recently featured in Wired magazine, and he's receiving speaking invitations from across the country.

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Today, he will speak at World Fair Use Day in Washington, D.C., and in March he'll speak at Harvard.

Reetz, in NDSU's visual neuroscience program, decided to make his first scanner when he realized it was cheaper to buy two digital cameras than spend $450 on textbooks.

Flatbed scanners wouldn't do the trick because flattening the book can damage the spine.

With Reetz's scanner, he clicks a button to capture two pages at a time. It takes about 20 minutes to scan a 400-page book.

He then uses a software program to turn the book into a PDF.

Reetz built a second scanner and documented each step, producing a detailed how-to manual for the Web site instructables.com.

That earned him a top prize in a contest on that Web site - a laser cutter he's now using to produce more book scanners.

Reetz has since had 130,000 views to his how-to guide, and 250 members have joined a Web site he launched, www.diybook

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scanner.org.

"People started building scanners left and right, and these are people of all stripes," Reetz said.

A man in Indonesia made a scanner to preserve holy books that were damp and rotting from floods.

A library in Ontario is using a similar scanner to digitize fragile documents relating to the history of the city of Paris, Ont., and making them available on the Internet.

Ann Merriman, a nautical archeologist and co-founder of St. Paul nonprofit Maritime Heritage Minnesota, is using a do-it-yourself scanner to digitize the logbooks of ships.

Merriman said the best potential use of the scanner is for other "little guys" like her nonprofit.

"We've got some great research ideas and the capability to do them," Merriman said. "We've only been held back by money.

Some have questioned the legality of Reetz's invention, but he says there are many legal uses for it, including scanning books you already own or scanning government publications or other documents in the

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public domain.

"I consistently get called a thief," Reetz said. "And I won't deny that the project started in a quasi-legal place.

"But those comments don't have any weight when compared to the amount of good that people are doing with the scanner and with their own designs," Reetz said.

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