DIGITAL RECORDS PRESERVATION WITH OIB
The Probate Court in Monroe County, Ohio, faced the challenge of inadequate space and resources to handle requests for public records. Their small record room was often crammed with individuals who needed to research records. A steady stream of traffic in and out of the office required staff assistance and administrative support. With limited resources to handle this demand, the staff was stretched thin dealing with copying issues, tracking documents, and collecting fees. Irreplaceable, aged documents were often damaged due to handling and overuse. The court risked misplacing valuable historical records.
Through a grant from the Ohio Supreme Court, the county scanned their record indexes and made them available via a public computer station in the court office, but this was also problematic.
“The line for the computer was often very long, and people still had to pull the books to find individual records,” explains Brenda Roberts, Clerk of Probate and Juvenile Court, Monroe County, OH. “We had a lot of traffic in and out of the office. People were literally on top of each other looking for records.”
Cott Systems worked with the Monroe County Probate Court to implement an Online Index Books (OIB) solution tailored specifically to their office. OIB makes it possible for users to search digital copies of indexes from the convenience of their desktop in exactly the same way they would search hard copy indexes. By combining digital images of the indexes and related record books with unique retrieval software, OIB replicated the hard copy indexing system that staff and the public have used for decades. OIB software is fully customizable to meet the individual needs of each local office based on their individual indexing system.
OIB allows the Monroe County Probate Court to place records online without going to the time and expense of reindexing. Because OIB captures digital images of the records, they are preserved as they were originally recorded. This eliminates the need to interpret the original, often handwritten documents, and greatly reduces the liability of reindexing.
Documents were scanned on-site by the Cott team who traveled to Monroe County to complete the work. Cott’s OIB Specialists then created a custom database using the same organizational structure as the court’s paper-based index system. Data and images were loaded into the OIB software program, and the system was tested to ensure everything worked correctly before it was released to the public. The result allows users to search for records digitally in the same way they searched the hardcopy records. After searchers locate the book and page in the digital index, they enter the information on the same screen to thumb through digital pages of the record book until they find the record they need.
The Monroe County Probate Court now provides convenient online access to thousands of court documents: birth, death, and marriage records, deed and mineral rights’ details for oil and gas records, wills, estate documents, and naturalization records.
“Many of our records were literally crumbling apart from overuse. OIB significantly reduces the amount of handling and helps preserve our records,” added Roberts. “I feel better knowing our records are stored electronically and will always be available.”
Previously, the staff spent the majority of their time pulling books, removing pages, and copying information for searchers in the office. Online Index Books allows the public to be more self-sufficient and the Monroe County Probate Court office to be more productive. Staff can now focus on cases and essential projects instead of filling requests for records.
“It has worked out great. Researchers can now do a lot of searching without coming into the office. When they do, they can go straight to pulling records,” said Roberts. “We even have an online request form that accepts credit card payments. Searchers request the records they need, submit payment, and we mail or email out the copies. They don’t need to come into the office at all. The best part is that we don’t have to lift the books, pull them apart, and copy them anymore. If we need to search for a record, we can do that from our desk. OIB is so much more convenient.”