Textbooks on the iPad…for the Teacher.

Much has been written about the need for digital textbooks for students.  The publishing industry is working through this need, coming up with many different answers, which include “locked” and “timed” versions of textbooks, apps, and in rare cases, PDF files.  At an Apple conference I attended this summer, the Apple representatives were encouraging a move away from textbooks to the use of self-published ePubs (Apple’s Pages is a fully-functional ePub publisher).  Textbooks for students will get sorted out (rather quickly) as schools move to 1-to-1 implementations of iPads and other tablets, as publishers stand to lose a lot if they cannot provide resources on those devices.

What about the teacher?

The teacher has a different need for textbooks.  In the event that a teacher uses a class textbook, they may need that textbook for reference or to correct answers.  But chances are that the teacher has an entire inventory of textbooks, in their office or stored away in their home, that they keep for rare reference moments.  How can teachers make sure they have this material at all times?  Scan them and create PDF files.

As of this afternoon, I’ve finished the task of scanning my “personal” library of textbooks that I couldn’t sell back, give away, or throw away.   If you’re a teacher you know what I mean–you feel beholden to certain textbook.   All of my college music theory, music education pedagogy, and choral resources have been converted to PDF files.  I’ll be uploading them to my iPad and I will always have access to those resources.

What does it take to make PDF of your textbooks?  Four things: 1) The ability to rip apart textbooks.  You won’t be using them again, and it is a worthy sacrifice.  Pages scan better when they are flat on the scanner.  As one of my (English) colleagues saw me rip apart books, she winced with each page.  It’s psychologically hard to destroy a book, even if you are doing so for good reason.  2) A scanner.  3) A computer.  4) Some special software.

Here is the process that I use.  A typical textbook takes about 4 hours (or less) to scan, something that I do over time while watching television series I’ve missed on Netflix.  I do most of my work at night when the rest of my family is asleep (8-12pm).  As a note, I use a Mac, and I’ve had more luck scanning with my Mac than I have with PCs (even the PCs at school using the same scanner), but any computer with a USB port can scan.

Step 1: Prepare the book by separating pages, page-by-page.  Some books come apart rather easily, others require some effort.

Step 2: Scan each page of the book using Mac Preview.  Scan settings should be for “Text” and 300 dpi PDF.  As a hint, you only use “Overview” (“Preview” in PC lingo) once, and then change the setting to “Color” to see where the page ends.  Then you change the setting back to “Text” and scan all pages.  Preview automatically numbers each subsequent page.

Step 3: After all pages are scanned, use an application like PDF-Suite ($1.99 in the Mac App Store) to merge all pages together in one step.  You will have to move the first scan to the top of the list, as Preview numbers each page after the initial scan.  Save the merged document to a location on your hard drive.

Step 4: Use PDF Shrink ($35) to make the PDF optimized for the iPad screen.  The instructions for making a custom compression were sent to me by a person at Apago:

Click on the “New” toolbar button and the click the “Advanced” button.

1) Color & Grayscale Images – select 150 dpi, JPEG, Medium quality
2) Monochrome Images – select 200 dpi, Flate

Step 5 (if Necessary): Use a PDF OCR application to recognize text in your document, making it searchable.  PDF Scanner (Available on the Mac App Store for $15.99) has OCR capability.

Step 6: Take your PDF and upload it to your favorite iPad PDF reader or even iBooks.

Is it a lot of work?  Sure.  Is it worth it to have these textbooks and references with me at all times?  If it was worth keeping the textbooks in the first place, absolutely.

Just a few notes:
  1. There are a number of software packages that might do steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 in one step.  Those packages tend to cost a lot of money.  I’ve tried to avoid that expenditure through this process.
  2. The Mac has some ability to “shrink” PDF files, but the results have not been pleasing to me.  I can’t recommend PDF Shrink enough, or the customer service from the company.  I hope they create a preset for “iPad PDF reading” as a part of their application.
  3. I like having a larger DPI “original” of a file on hand, in the event that a future iPad has greater DPI (this is guaranteed to happen eventually) and so my scans can still look good.
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