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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ind. Gov't. - "Monroe County departments tracking down old records, scanning them into digital form"

The Bloomington Herald-Times ($$$) has a very long story this morning by Rachel Bunn that begins:

Records for an old Monroe County court case may be in any one of five buildings somewhere in the county right now. Some are in the Charlotte T. Zietlow Justice Center, where the Monroe County Clerk’s Office, home to court records, is located. Most of the oldest records are stored in the Cantol Wax building at 211 N. Walnut St., alongside other county departments’ older records.

The files are on paper and microfilm, and deterioration has begun in some cases. Dust mites are in the files in the justice building, said Linda Robbins, Monroe County clerk of the circuit courts. Silverfish, whose diet includes paper, have been found in other files. An audit of the microfilm by the clerk’s staff found some of the microfilm smelled like vinegar, a sign of deterioration. In the Cantol Wax building, mold is an issue.

After nearly two years of planning, the clerk’s office this month began scanning the old case files, some of which date back 40 years.

“It helps storage, because we’re overrun with paper,” Robbins said.

Some Monroe County departments have been digitizing documents for years, becoming nearly paperless. As other departments work to catch up, the county is looking for options to preserve its records — some of which date back to the 1800s — before they deteriorate or storage space runs out.

The clerk’s office purchased two scanners, and three people in the office are working on the project, which involves not only scanning the files, but also identifying which files are scannable, and weeding out duplicate items.

“At this pace, and we have so many, it’s going to take five years,” Robbins said.

The process in the clerk’s office is one part of a wider-reaching county project on records that is intended to both ease the storage burden the county faces and maintain the county records for archival purposes.

Monroe County grants administrator Ashley Cranor spoke with Jim Canary, head of conservation at Indiana University’s Lilly Library, and Philip Bantin, director of the office of university archives and records management at IU, and hopes to create a long-term plan for the county’s records.

“I’ve been driving elected officials and department heads crazy for the past two years trying to collect the information for this,” Cranor said.

In addition to files kept in individual county offices, records are scattered throughout county buildings — the Monroe County Courthouse basement, the attic of the Monroe County Health Building, the Cantol Wax building, North Showers County Government Center, the justice building and even the Highway Garage.

Later in the story:
For the auditor’s office, a consolidation of records and a move toward paperless record keeping is in its early stages. The office plans to partner with a service that will digitize most of the records, clearing up space.

“It sets you up to start the beginning to go as paperless as you can,” Saulter said.

The office will digitize nearly every file in its possession, a process that could take up to six months to complete, and continue digitizing records yearly.

But according to Indiana Code, permanent records — including meeting minutes, payroll records and ordinances — must be kept forever, and can be stored in their original state or on microfilm.

For other nonpermanent records — including legal files, time cards and personnel files — Indiana Code lays out some guidelines for how long the records must be kept, but for others the guidelines have been created from discussions with county officials and the Indiana Commission on Public Records. Records must be kept anywhere from 30 days to 75 years, or in cases of things like critical infrastructure information, whenever they become outdated. * * *

The process started when the assessor’s office ran into the same problem the auditor faces now — a lack of storage space.

Starting with the property record cards, which contain the assessed value of the property, paper records in the assessor’s office began to disappear. What once were multiple boxes have become a single disk.

“We can keep those forever,” Sharp said. “We’ve got a record on a disk, and those will last longer than I’ll be around.”

State regulations

The Indiana Commission on Public Records does not necessarily agree that disk storage is permanent.

In the commission’s view, there are two permanent formats: the original (usually paper) form and microfilm.

Technology tends to move quickly, making many forms of electronic storage unusable when computers or other devices are no longer able to open files. But microfilm has a shelf life of 500 years, according to Ted Cotterill, deputy director of the ICPR.

“At a certain point, it’s very easy for them to become not accessible,” he said of the use of disks for permanent record storage. “Microfilm exists for a reason.”

Jim Fielder, Monroe County recorder, agrees that keeping a hard copy of documents can be beneficial for county departments.

“I feel in most offices, it’s a very good thing to keep a hard copy,” he said. “When the public comes in asking, you better be able to put your hands on those documents.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for digitizing records in addition to keeping them in a permanent format.

“I don’t think here in the recorder’s office it would be wise to have one paper copy,” Fielder said. “The last thing you want is to lose that one piece of paper that the taxpayer wants to look at.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 19, 2013 01:04 PM
Posted to Indiana Government