There are some useful new tech devices I’ve spent some time reading about online. Both these devices, if they work as well as advertised, could radically change the way I and other academics work.
1. CopyCat Portable Scanner – £79.99
This is a handheld scanner, about the size of a remote, which can scan documents and save them to a memory card. Optical character recognition software can then turn these documents into editable and searchable text.
I’ve not yet seen anyone using one of these, but I would not be surprised to see one soon.
For the researcher this is a no-brainer. The ability to capture documents and save them for future use makes me positively foam at the mouth; especially for use on material in reference only libraries. Making these documents searchable would also be very useful. The price would really not put me off buying this.
First off, there are loads of copyright complexities to contend with – in the same way as photocopying. Some libraries go mad when you photograph material, so I presume they’d also go mad at this. Also, having potentially thousands of images of documents over the course of an extended research project would require some serious data management.
2. Livescribe Smart Pen – Over £100
This is a pen which can do more than just ink paper (although it does that too). It had a mic embedded in it, so it can record discussions and lectures. This playback is actually associated with what you were writing at the time, so you can hear again what exactly it was you meant by a cryptic note. It also saves the writing as a digital file which run through OCR software again makes hand written notes editable and searchable on the computer.
I’ve been in a workshop with a student who used one of these. He really rated it highly.
This seems to be a great solution to aligning notes with speech and also making notes searchable.
Again, this is a copyright minefield. Recording lectures, conference papers and panels is a grey area since whether or not you are allowed to do this depends on the speaker. I also feel it is a big investment since most seem to be around £150 and then you need special dotted paper to make notes on which is an additional and continuing cost. I also lose biros quite often.
3. Kindle (or other ebook reader) – £100-49
The Kindle and the many other ebook readers available have had lots of press attention. Basically, you could have any book you want in digital format and carry a whole library around on a device not much bigger than a paperback.
I haven’t seen any of these around the library, but then you do tend to go to the library for books…
A whole library in a tiny package is the most obvious. You can make notes and annotations on the text too, and export these.
It isn’t really clear to me what kinds of texts are available in ebook format. I assume everything that is out of copyright, so older novels and poetry. But what about literary criticism? Are the academic publishers on board? Is it all popular fiction? Another downside is that according to this blogger there are no page numbers, which would make referencing a nightmare. You also can’t check ebooks from a library, so you’ll need to pay for everything.