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Author's profile photo Laura Nevin

Scroll Your Own – Best practices for releasing documentation as scrolls

With the push towards sustainability and minimizing environmental impact, the return to releasing documentation as scrolls is now trending in the high-tech industry. Aside from the number of trees being saved, converting your docs to scrolls means users won’t need electricity or even the internet to access them – a simple candle will do. And then there’s longevity to consider. Scrolls made correctly still look great after thousands of years. Compare that to today’s paper, which deteriorates in less than a century.

Figuring out what is required to release your documentation as a set of scrolls can be complicated. These best practices help you navigate the choices so that you can give your documentation that competitive edge that only sustainable products earn these days.spatial scroll.png

SAP SQL Anywhere – Spatial Data Guide (scroll 147):

Tip 1: Picking your materials

When finding a scroll supplier, you’ll need to know what kind of scrolls you want. Your choices are papyrus (a type of sedge found in abundance in wetlands), parchment (dried animal skins), or copper. Papyrus doesn’t last as long as parchment or copper, but it’s easier to get, less controversial with animal rights groups than parchment, and lighter and much less expensive than copper.

As for inks, although lead-based inks look best on papyrus and lasts the longest, they are not bio-friendly. Countless scribes in history died of lead poisoning to bring you this tip.

Tip 2: Going Horizontal

You have a choice to scroll your content vertically or horizontally. I recommend horizontally. With vertical scrolls, your users risk shoulder strain and wear from holding the top end of the scroll above their head. Horizontal scrolls are easier to hang on to, and they have the advantage of allowing you to enjoy a copy of coffee as you scroll around one-handed, much like you would while scrolling through content on your mobile device.

Tip 3:  Calculating how many scrolls you’ll need

I had to do some research on scroll making to calculate how many scrolls it would take to release SAP SQL Anywhere in scroll format. If you plan on following the aforementioned tips, then you can just reuse my formulas below.  However, you’ll need to know the total number of PDF pages your documentation currently represents. This metric is essential to the scroll calculations.

So, sources varied on the average length of a scroll, so I took an average of all the recommendations and came up with an average scroll length of 16 feet as being ideal. Coincidentally, this happens to reflect the exact recommendation of one of the most trustworthy experts on scrolls, Pliny the Elder‘s, who in his Historia Naturalis (Natural History) mentions this length.

With horizontal orientation, text on a scroll gets laid out much like side-by-side pages. We will refer to these pages as content blocks hereinafter. The orientation of the writing in these content blocks is thus parallel to the length dimension of the scroll. To illustrate what I mean, in the image below, there are 6 content blocks laid out side-by-side on a scroll:


  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===

  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===

  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===

  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===


The average height of a typical scroll is 11”, comparable to a height of a standard piece of paper. The average width of a content block is 8.5”, comparable to the standard width of a piece of paper. This is all very convenient for calculations, isn’t it.. 🙂 

Our formula would therefore look something like this:

  1. ( total-pdf-pages  X  8.5 )  / 12  =  total-length-in-feet
  2. total-length-in-feet  /  16  =  total-number-scrolls

Now, the SAP SQL Anywhere documentation has about 11k ‘pages’ (PDF pages). Using the formula above, we can count the total number of scrolls as follows:

  1. ( 11,000  X  8.5 ) / 12  =  7791’ ( total length in feet required to put it on scrolls)
  2. 7791’ / 16  =  487 scrolls

From these calculations, we see that SAP SQL Anywhere documentation would require 487 scrolls.

Be kind, rewind

Admittedly, scrolls do reintroduce some annoyances you probably thought you were done with. For example, just as with VCR tapes, there is nothing more annoying than going to use a scroll and finding the previous user put it back without rewinding. User may need to institute scroll handling policies to address this.

And then there is the potential need for storage space. If your documentation set is really big, your customers may need to build a scrollery if they don’t already have one in their facility.

Scroll reversal

Finally, as with any form of change, you can expect resistance at first as users get used to the format. The following video from the medieval age shows you the reaction when users went from scrolls to codices (books). We can anticipate a similar reaction in the reverse, so be prepared.

Just remember, if all else fails, you can always just reverse your decision and go back to books.

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