I had more money left over from my PC upgrade than I realized, so I spent a little more of it on something I'd been mulling for some time: a desktop flatbed scanner. Nothing too over-the-top, just an Epson Perfection V39. It's part of what I have come to call the In-House Art Preservation And Digital Collage Society.
Of all the things I spend disposable income on, I tend to focus most on things I suspect will vanish if I don't pick them up quickly. I don't ever worry about something like the Marvel movies ever going out of print; those things will never vanish, even if we want them to. But stuff like the Seijun Suzuki Taishō Trilogy, or Ralph Gibson's Black Trilogy, for that matter, there's no guarantee those will continue to be around.
Some of the most precious stuff in my collections are art- and photobooks. Just about all of them go out of print as soon as they appear. A few of them are in delicate enough shape that I don't want to keep pulling them off the shelf and putting them back whenever I want to look at them. And I enjoy looking at a lot of them for inspiration and headspace. That's the frustrated filmmaker in me, I guess, hungry for visuals for the landscape within and all that.
Hence the scanner, which I picked up for around $90 from the local office supply outlet. With that I can scan the stuff I most want casual access to, and then keep the original in the bookcase where it belongs. Some of the books in my collection are at least twice as expensive as the scanner itself, according to a casual glance at eBay.
I was originally tempted to sock away some more money and pick up a large-format 11×17 scanner, and at some point I might do that anyway, but for now the standard letter-size scanner seems to do the job well. For oversized books, I don't put the book on the scanner; I take off the scanner's dust lid and put the scanner itself face-down on the book. The scanner's thin and lightweight enough to make this workable, and the quality of the scans I get out of it are fine.
Scanning all the stuff I have in mind is a long-term project. But even in just the few days I've been doing this, I've been re-impressed with the preciousness of these things. We're getting too used to the idea that the default mode for a cultural artifact is digital — universally fungible, and potentially forever part of the 'sphere. It's entirely possible most everything that came into print after a certain point in time will never go back out of print again ... at least if they were fortunate enough to be issued in some digital form in the first place.
Many things aren't and can't be issued in, or maybe better to say reduced to, a digital form. They work because they are physical, because they fill our entire field of vision with their existences. One of the art books in my collection, a Yoshitaka Amano collection called Coffin: The Art Of Vampire Hunter D, covers nearly the entire surface of the desk I rest it on when I open it. That's part of it's appeal. It's not something you take with you to read at the beach; it's something that demands you make a space for it in your life to be both preserved and appreciated. A scan of it is for the sake of convenience, and never more than that. The real thing remains forever real, and necessary.