Scanning Paper More Efficiently

A question has come up about scanning paper more efficiently.

There’s nothing like a pile of paper to get me hyperventilating and setting unreasonable goals.

I’ve scanned reams of paper into my computer so I should have an answer. It’s called the Zen of Paper Scanning, Efficiency is a State of Mind.

There’s two main parts to this. What’s going on in my mind, and what’s going on between my scanner and my computer.

The biggest obstacle for me is my mind. It’s just not built for repetitive tasks. If I’m confronted by one, or if I choose one, I have to keep tricking myself in different ways to stay interested. Most of the time, scanning a stack of paper wouldn’t even look like a sane way to spend a day. It would just look like penance.

Assuming it’s a different day and getting to the bottom of the pile looks desirable, I might start by picking out the single pages that can be scanned and filed the most easily. That way I get the most sense of satisfaction in the least amount of time.

When I’m bored with that I might switch to sorting the paper by MRINs and work on one set at a time. Then I’d switch to picking out the people who are the most interesting or the pages that have layouts that appeal to me the most, and so on in that vein.

Scanning Time

I don’t know what your constraints are for genealogy computer time. I’m at home most of the time and my days are mine. Still, I’ve had to come to the sad realization that man cannot live by genealogy alone. So, I’ve tried various methods for disciplining the time I spend here. I can easily go for 10 hours straight and forget to eat.

I tried splitting my day into computer and non-computer hours. That didn’t work because it was too vague. So I tried splitting my days. Odd numbers on, even numbers off. That didn’t work because there were reasons I just had to get on the computer on my off days.

Now, I’ve gone back to a Yahoo widget called Kitchen Timer. I used to use it to keep me from burning toast. I’d be going to check one thing on the computer and poof, there went another breakfast up in smoke. Now I have a better solution for the toast and my life in general. When I get on the computer I set it for one hour.


When my time’s up I set it for one hour that I have to stay away from the computer and do something else. Preferably something that involves physical movement. This one works because it doesn’t require that much discipline and it keeps my life in better balance.

Don’t Scan What You Can Download

You might be able to cut some off your scanning time if you keep the following story in mind.

Some of the paper that I scanned came from a cousin who got it from various societies he wrote away to. The societies charged my cousin $1 or $2 a page for their time and bother. My cousin would then photocopy his photocopies at additional cost and mail the second set over to me at even more cost. And then I would scan them. I’m afraid to look now and find out for sure but I think the societies got some or all of their information from the Internet.

Batch Scanning

As with most everything, I find that breaking things down into steps, and then maximizing the efficiency of each step, works the best. It’s the least aggravating overall. My mind gets involved in the kick of creating a more and more efficient system and that takes my mind off the tedium of the paper itself. You might want to start by dividing your papers into what can be OCR’ed (Digitizing Text Part I) and what needs to be scanned as graphics (Digitizing Text Part II).

I try to batch anything I can. If I know I’m going to re-size certain pages to a standard then I’ll line all those up to do at one time. I use hot keys as much as possible.

Adobe Photoshop Elements, Image Size

There’s enough cursor-pushing as it is and anything that lessens some of that is good. As I’m working, I watch every step of what’s involved and see if there’s a way to make any of them easier. Every little improvement lightens the load.

Accessing Your Scanner

There are various ways to access your scanner.

If you have cheap software bundled with your scanner that says it can only save your scans as JPG, import your scanner using other software so you can save in other formats. TIFF is essential for photographs. XnView is free.

For text as graphics, I always use mine through Adobe Elements as I edit virtually everything I scan, even if it’s only a simple straighten and crop.

Adobe Photoshop Elements

Once the scanner is connected to Adobe, I scan one page after another which stacks them up like a deck of cards ready for editing and saving. This works best on single pages. If it’s a multi-page document that needs to be pieced together afterward I’ll do that by itself because it’s less confusing.

I don’t know of any magic to paper-scanning except to pace yourself. Do what you can do well in one sitting and leave the rest for the next time. I find it’s healthier to set myself a manageable amount for one day and spread it out over a month than slog through from morning til night hating every minute of it. There is a bottom to the pile.

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