How Is Your Township History Preserved?

This article originally appeared in the Nov/December issue of Ohio Township News

“Yes, so glad we do” or “No, I wish we had.” Those are the two most common responses given when asked if you have scanned copies of the original damaged or missing records.

Often the documents filed away in a basement, attic, file room or old jail cell are of rarely ever thought. Let alone, thinking in terms of protecting these records against a threat are not given much thought. Sometimes it is easy to think in terms of “we have never had a natural disaster come near our building.” Or “we have never had any issues.” However, the more immediate and common threats always tend to be overlooked and often reside inside your building. These threats come in many forms such as a water line break, fire, sewer backup, leaky basement, and theft.

Over the past 14 years working with local governments, I have found a common theme to document scanning. Often the task of back scanning historical documents seems too expensive, tedious, out of sight and out of mind. While this may be the case with many agencies, I ask you to really consider what are the most valuable documents you have in your possession and what is your responsibility to their protection? What are the documents you would run to first in an emergency to save? Are they only available in paper form or have you already taken the initiative to scan?

In Pickaway County, the County Auditor’s office has stacks upon stacks of Real Estate Duplicates books dating back to the 1880’s. Not only are these documents permanent records, but they hold a lot of history as far as property values, transfers and ownership. Melissa Betz, Pickaway County Auditor, knew that these important documents needed to be preserved and decided to use revenue from the real estate assessment fund to begin scanning the books. Planning cannot be overstated here; working with your existing vendors is a great place to start. They will help you understand your scanning and backup capabilities. Set a plan and execute. Determine a suitable timeline and put steps in place to achieve those goals. Often it is as simple as purchasing a scanner to get started.

“We are very pleased with the final scanned product that we have received,” said Betz. “There are many other documents that we would like to begin scanning, but we will be dependent on general fund dollars for those projects.” There are many benefits of scanning. Digitizing records allow offices to easily store and share the documents. When combining scanning with document management software, adding keywords help speed up the search and retrieval time. Physical space reduction is often overlooked but can be a big cost saving by freeing up shelves and extra buildings designated to hold paper files.

“The biggest benefit, though, to having these documents scanned in is the ability to look at the records on our desktops,” stated Auditor Betz.

“The location of where these books are stored is difficult to get to and the books themselves are heavy and cumbersome, so to be able to pull them up at our desk is a huge benefit.”

There were several offices in Pickaway County that had already had a scanning process in place for their documents so when County Auditor Betz began the process, there was little pushback or eyebrows raised. In fact, in part to the Auditor scanning in the Real Estate Duplicates books, other county offices have followed suit and have begun scanning in some of their important documents.

With the recent hurricanes, floods, and fires impacting local governments across the country if that day ever happens in your township, what will be your response to the question “Do you have digital copies of all the records lost?” Hopefully, your answer will be “Yes, so glad we do!”