Friday, February 5, 2010

County Records Update

The high cost of preserving records essential to Jackson County's past -- records important for both official business and historical research -- became the main topic of discussion Thursday at the latest meeting of the Jackson County Commission on Public Records.

Actually storing the records also was touched on. Afterward the Commission secretary, County Clerk Sarah Benter, gave me a quick guided tour of the record storage areas she and the folks in her office have straightened over the past several months. The room appears lighter and cleaner as well.

Attending the meeting as Jackson County Historian, I was the only visitor joining the four of seven commission members present. With a quorum they were able to conduct the little business to come before them Thursday.

During the discussion the county recorder, Traci Hubbard, said it costs about $2,500 each to preserve the deed books in her office by having the pages given an acid bath and then encapsulated before being returned to book form. The process also doubles the size of the record books.

Space use and needs have been discussed for years by the county commissioners and council members who conducted another hearing last fall and promised a professional study of space would be underway soon. As far as anyone knew, no action has been taken toward that study.
The record commissioners are more understanding than I, even though I know the county commissioners have many other things about which to be concerned. The records have been neglected for years. Few elected to the offices make time to learn about the old records or to care for their preservation.

Clerk Benter has been an exception. While she is the first to say the changes she has made are not perfect, I will be among the first to say the changes are welcome. I haven't had a chance recently to research in the basement storage area, but I was impressed with the changes since last time I visited.

Sarah and her crew now have a system for the files back to 1911. It's a bit convoluted but it seems workable to follow across a run of records here, then move around the corner along another run before jumping to another area where the numbers continue in order. Hooray! And plans are to add years to the case numbers on the boxes.

For my purposes, I wish the same order existed in the pre-1911 records. I still want to find Seymour Barmore's 1860s divorce packet. But what a job it must have been to organize the folders back to 1911 from the stacked and sagging chaos in which they had been stored. The files now should be much easier for Sarah and her clerks to access. She said some of the files are needed almost daily.

Sarah also is responsible for some of those big old books that are hard to handle. Most of them now are vertical, rather than stacked on top of one another, and will be at least a bit easier to locate and maneuver. She re-used some of the old shelving to get books off the floor in another storage area. It's a great start.

The re-organization also will give whoever follows Sarah Benter in the office a year or two of breathing room before storage becomes a problem again. Well done, Sarah!

And thank you or caring about the records and the people who use them. We can only hope the next person in the office becomes as knowledgeable about the records as you have -- and that those who use the books will show respect in handling them and will take time to return them to their proper place.

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