According to Kirtas' CEO, the University of Toronto, has digitized 500 year old books with the Kirtas book scanner and the books were unharmed. We know that scanning these books will allow them to be handled less, since now the electronic versions can be used. We might not automatically think of the other benefit. The digital images of those books can be used to print facsimiles. Those facsimiles can be placed in general circulation or sold. For example, religious texts never go out-of-date. Scholars and other researchers like to be able to read the older texts. What if some of these texts could be digitized and then reproduced? Now a scholar could own an exact reproduction. Imagine the impact that could have on the research community.
Of course, once the digital files are created, the facsimiles could be produced on demand, which is what Brewster Kahle's printing bookmobile does. Printing on-demand is a great option since it eliminates the cost of inventory.
Does the facsimile lessen the value of the original book? I don't think so. In fact, given that more people could have access to the book, I think it would make the book better known and could heighten the books value. I'm sure that will have to tested and proven before libraries begin making facsimiles that they sell.
The key to all of this is getting the books into electronic form. Not every institution that has books worth digitizing can afford the technology, so how should we proceed? I'll write about that tomorrow.