How do I best turn a bunch of library book notes into editable text?
May 21, 2017 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Are digital pen scanners worth it, or is there something else I should be looking at?

The problem: I'm working on a writing project where I've got various library books with tons of notes I need to take out of them that I eventually want to be able to type/edit on. This is taking me fifty billion years to do manually. I basically want to have editable text in a Word doc/RTF that I can write in/on later, not just a bunch of JPEG scans of book pages I took pics of with the phone. I have done searches on Ask Metafilter for this problem before writing this, but it looks like none of the questions are more recent than oh, 2010, so hopefully technology has improved since then.

Are digital pen scanners/digital highlighter pens worth buying? (I'd probably buy one off Amazon since I have a gift card for that.) It sounds like the reviews for every damn one of them are super mixed to the point where I can't figure out if it's worth it or not or if I should just give up and resort to typing everything myself. Does anyone have one they'd recommend buying, or are they all crap? Or is there some other viable technological solution out there that works better these days?
posted by jenfullmoon to Technology (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have not used the pens. Depending on what you are working on, I have a few suggestions

- if it's just quotations and short paragraphs you may actually be just fine dictating them and having them be transcribed? Depending on what sort of platform you use, Apple's speech-to-text (for example) is quite good.
- there are some online OCR conversion tools which you could put your JPGs into. I haven't used them but if you are looking at like 20-30 images, that might be cost effective (less so if you are looking at 200-300). Maybe someone else can speak to whether there are decent free or low-cost programs where you can do that in bulk.
- if the books are reasonably current and already exist digitally you may be able to find digital copies of them on Amazon or Google Books and copy/paste what you need out of there. If they're older, you may be able to do the same at the Internet Archive or Hathi Trust. Remember if you have a PDF you can usually copy the text out of them though the format may leave something to be desired.
posted by jessamyn at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2017

I tried a digital highlightrer/scanner pen a few years ago. It was terrible. Unless tech has considerably improved in the last few years, this is not an option.

Conversely, whole page scanning / OCR seems to have progressing nicely. Photographing and processing the page (maybe place a ruler under the vital paragraph when you do the photo?) could be a decent solution.
posted by outlier at 3:21 AM on May 22, 2017

Scannable (iPhone app, might be available on Android) works pretty well for receipts and recipes. Is this printed text or handwritten notes? If it is printed text, try pasting some of your pictures into OneNote (part of Microsoft Office). Once the picture is pasted in, right click and select "Copy Text from Picture" and then paste it right next to the picture. You might get confusion between capital I and number 1 and a few others, but most of the transcribing is accurate.
posted by soelo at 7:40 AM on May 22, 2017

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