|Records Center scans mountains of files to create paperless government archives
A snapshot of the County’s filing fee collection for Aug. 15, 1935, where total fees for deeds and marriage licenses at the County Clerk’s office came to a whopping $28.00. By the way, fees for filing deeds and leases ranged from 75 cents to $1.50. A marriage license was $1.75.
The ebb and flow of transforming paper documents into searchable, digital images is never ending but, far from the public view, the County’s Records staff keeps chugging along in their offices on McDonald Street in McKinney.
As a group, the seven-person staff scans about 42,000 pages of document and images a month, or about 6,000 pages each. At the same time, about 3,500-plus storage boxes packed with old receipts, ledgers, notes and minutes are packed off to the shredder.
These folks are the caretakers of information collected on behalf of Collin County residents for the past 165 years. It is painstakingly tedious and important, as clerks jump from county receipts from the 1990’s to election rolls from the 1880’s and then on to District Attorney files from a quarter century ago.
Methodically, a page at a time, workers remove staples and paperclips, tape small slips of receipts onto paper and break down file folders for scanning and indexing. And as if once it not enough, they then check to make sure every page is readable before marking the original for destruction – or sending it back to its storage box.
“At times, I’m sure our staff can be overwhelmed at the sheer volume to be done,” says Record Manager Margaret Anderson, “but they always pull together and the job done on time and within budget.”
(l-r) Cindy Webb, Leilani Judd, and Hope Robinson stand in front of the Records Department’s “shredder” room, where boxes of documents await destruction.
At another end of the small suite of offices, another group converts images and index information (metadata) from a an old computer system that dates back to the 1980’s and uploads it into a new integrated file system.
The department is service and support group for all county departments for every type of record created in the course of business.
Beyond storing paper records, they also handle all original microfilm for county departments, administer the electronic document management system, oversee shredding services, and coordinate the authorized destruction of records. Most importantly, the department staff keeps track of the very specific – and complicated – rules and laws about how long a record must be kept.
Each document has its own timestamp for how long it must be kept on file, and specific guidelines for how and when it must be destroyed.
In some cases, the records can never be destroyed, such as District Court cases. In others, the retention schedule might only require a few years. Some are scanned as a backup in case of fire or flood; some literally become the official record in digital form.
Ms. Anderson, who will retire in June after nine years with the county (and a few years with Dallas County before that), said that her group’s work in her span has gone from 39,000 scanned documents with limited access and search capabilities for employees to more than 3 million records available at more than 500 county desktop computers.
“It is often a thankless but necessary job,” she says of her staff, “And it takes dedicated people with high quality standards to get it done right.”
|Record Center By the numbers (2011)|
|Boxes of records shredded
Pounds of paper shredded
Documents scanned each month
Oldest court document
Here are a few examples of the record section’s duties:
- Current accounts payable check runs are scanned by the Auditor’s staff, and stored electronically for the Budget Office, Auditor, and County Commissioners Court to review before the checks are put in the mail.
- They support County Clerk’s Genealogy Corner by storing marriage licenses and school census records that have been scanned and catalogued for online searching.
- Maintaining the District Clerk’s historical scanned case files from 1847-1999, so that the clerks can find a case file from their desktop rather than having to go search through a box in the basement.
- Converting older Justice of the Peace records to scanned images to match up with the 131,000 documents currently scanned and available to the four offices; thus, avoiding having to scroll through old microfilm copies, and then print them off and ship them back to the offices.
The bottom line is, their work can reduce response time to retrieve records from a day of searching to seconds. And, as we said before, with 165 years of records to sort through, the department’s scanning project has plenty to do.
The earliest scanned document on file is an 1847 District Court case where Alfred Black sued several men for cutting down trees on his land. The most recent are copies of the checks approved for payment in the latest Commissioners Court.
The department also recently completed scanning Justice of the Peace Inquest records that ranged from the 1950’s through the mid-1970’s. They’ve since moved on to scanning historical certified election books from 1880’s, and historical County Clerk marks and brand books, while also assisting the Development Services staff add new septic permit documents to their database each week.