By PAMELA BRUST
PARKERSBURG - A records management and preservation project which will reduce wear and tear on older records books and make records more accessible by putting them online is now underway in the Wood County Clerk's office.
"We started about three weeks ago, the state Department of Records Management and Preservation is taking out about 10 books at a time. We started with the grantor and grantee indexes from 1798. They can do the 10 books in about a week so they don't have them for an extended period of time," said Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes.
If someone needs to have a copy of the records that are out at the time, Rhodes said his office can contact the state and they can send down a copy of the needed document.
"Most of the local attorneys, realtors and researchers who are here on a regular basis, have said they can wait or work around it, it hasn't been a problem so far," he said.
The state's scanning services are being provided at no charge to the county. The scanning process will allow less wear and tear and additional damage, on the older volumes especially. Repairs to the older books are done as funds become available.
"Those older books are bound; the pages cannot be removed from those books for copying like they can from more recent ones, so the binding takes a lot of stress in making copies," Rhodes said.
The state office has a specialized scanner that makes it easier to copy the records without damaging the books.
"I can't say enough about the state office and how much of a help they have been. They agreed to help us long before we applied for the grant, they offered all the counties this assistance," Rhodes said.
The county has been awarded a $10,000 West Virginia Records Management and Preservation Board grant. The grant requires a $1,000 match which Rhodes said he plans to take from the overtime line item in his own budget.
"So this is not costing the county commission any additional money," he said.
The grant funds will be used to pay personnel costs once back indexing, scanning and proofreading begins.
Rhodes said some of the records were already microfilmed, but this will allow the documents to be put on online making them more accessible. Some will be available from any site, others will have the index accessible online from outside the courthouse, which will make the book and page number accessible by computer in order to get a copy.
Not only will it cut down on the wear and tear on the books, it should mean fewer people needing to use the records room which may help with the large amount of oil and gas research that is going on, Rhodes noted.
Estates, wills, appraisements and settlements will be the next step.
Rhodes said he has done some research to see how much time would be involved with this process.
"It took two employees about 10 hours to do 820 pages and another seven hours to proofread it," he said, adding some of the work will need to be completed during off-work hours. This is where the grant funding will be used.
"We have to make sure the information is correct, deeds are more time-consuming," Rhodes said.
Last year the preservation board awarded $427,540 to 30 counties for records management and preservation projects. The board was created by the Legislature in 2000 to develop a system of records management and preservation for county governments. Funding for the program comes from filing fees collected by county clerks and deposited in the Public Records and Preservation Account.
These projects will be ongoing for some time, Rhodes said.