BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - A description of the route for one of Monroe County’s first roads uses colloquial landmarks such as “head north of John Smith’s family barn” to explain its direction.
According to a probable-cause affidavit from the 1800s, a man in those days could be charged for fornication, and county insanity records state one individual was admitted for nervousness.
Snippets like these provide a window into what life in Monroe County may have been like centuries ago, and they can be found among the plethora of records stored at the James Franklin Fielder Archive Center located in the Showers Building on North Morton Street.
Old sheriff’s dockets, commissioners’ minutes, judgment dockets and road books are some of the items stored in the archives.
“These are all the oldest books - that, basically, between the (Monroe County) historical center and us, these are the oldest books in the county,” county archivist Jon Weiler said. “Without these books, there is no Bloomington, basically, because this is the history, the legacy of Bloomington.”
But not all records are permanent or of historical value. Others can be destroyed after a predetermined retention schedule as dictated by Indiana code. County Recorder Eric Schmitz said management of such records, especially, is a daunting task the county has to address and hopes to tackle this year.
Both permanent and temporary records are stored in various offices, buildings and even another county. Schmitz said some departments have stacks of boxes with records that need either to be destroyed or properly retained. But not everyone is well versed in what is required to be disposed of, or the retention schedules.
“What can we do to help manage all these records and preserve the ones that need to be preserved, store the ones that need to be kept for a certain amount of time and destroy the ones that are past their retention schedules?” is the main question Schmitz said his office will try to answer.
County council member Lee Jones, who acts as council liaison to the recorder’s office, said the responsibility for record keeping has fallen onto individual departments, but the county needs to move away from that. Jones said some concerns about having materials managed in such a manner include possible deterioration due to inadequate storage, space management issues and problems in locating needed records.
“We should have a countywide system for archiving,” Jones said. “And then it would be much easier to find old records.”
But it will not be an easy task to sift through the volume of records that need organizing, Schmitz said. That is why his office is hoping to provide some insight to get the process started.
Initially, the recorder’s office planned to hire a record management and preservation consultant to assess the present storage of county records and recommend strategies to ensure their preservation. The county council approved $10,000 in September. But Schmitz said proposals came in at higher prices than anticipated, forcing the office to consider other options.
Schmitz said instead of hiring an archival consultant to help the county organize its records, his office will rely on the local records commission to take a more aggressive role to educate other departments on records retention, storage and management.
He said since the recorder’s office offered to lead the endeavor, interest has increased among county offices. Part of the process will be to get training completed with the aid of a representative from the Indiana State Commission on Public Records, something the office did in the past, but Schmitz said response this time may be greater.
“This costs us nothing other than our time and attention,” Schmitz said. “And the state would like to make that training open to other counties in our area at the same time. In this way, Monroe County could have a role in leading the way to improving records management in south-central Indiana.”
Many of the records stored in the Fielder Archive Center - named for longtime county recorder and clerk Jim Fielder - were once stored in the Cantol Wax Building on North Washington Street. Weiler said a pipe burst in the building, spewing water on everything and destroying a lot of documents. The salvaging and restoration of some of those books is still being done.
Weiler said the process to restore a damage booked can vary. For example, to restore an old deed book to good condition costs $4,500, Schmitz said.
Another storage area is the basement of the county courthouse, Schmitz said, adding that location may not be ideal because the humidity in the room has to be managed to protect what is stored. Weiler said dehumidifiers were purchased to slow deterioration.
Some departments, such as the county clerk’s office, have turned to digitization of records to improve management of files and create space. Clerk Linda Robbins said the goal is to be paperless by the end of the year.
“When I came in the office, we had piles of files on the floor and we barely had a one-foot-wide walkway, and the storage rooms in the basement were overflowing,” Robbins said. “We had to do something with it.”
A $32,000 scanner was purchased to scan books. After they are scanned, the books are sent to the state archives for storage, Robbins said.
In addition, she said, she expanded her staff in order to prioritize care of these records.
But due to the volume of case files, it took some creative solutions to store materials before the digitization of records.
Robbins said some records were stored at a facility in Anderson for between $1,000 and $3,000 per month, as well as in other county-owned office spaces. She said no appropriate facility for such files was available within the county, and the shipping of files to Anderson is temporary. As more files are scanned, they can be returned to the county.
Schmitz said as the record management process moves forward, he would like to see more departments moving to digitized records and microfilm. Jones said that for the county to have proper record management, each department has to get involved, adding the recorder’s office is looking to do that.
“I am very pleased we continue to figure out a way to make this work,” Jones said.
Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times, https://bit.ly/1QcCpWr
Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com
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