Digitizing records slow process

Jeremy Nash News-Herald.net
After about two years of digitizing departmental records, Loudon County officials wait for an improved, more user-friendly website before all public documents can be placed online for viewing.
The venture was started by former Mayor Estelle Herron who, in a previous interview, said the county had been “needing to do this for many, many years.” At the time in 2013, she estimated scanning would take at least a year to complete.
Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said scanning is still currently being undertaken by full-time employee Carrisa Spoon.
“We’re not really up and going as far as getting it all out onto the website yet, and payroll is a little bit different, and some of the stuff in Tracy’s (Blair, finance director) department because she has some stuff that can never be destroyed,” Bradshaw said. “Most of your government documents, there’s a few after so many years you can shred those, get rid of those, everything you choose to dispose of them, but the payroll stuff and some stuff Tracy deals with you can never get rid of, and that just continues to grow year after year after year.”
The goal remains to have all departmental documents, including Loudon County Commission meeting minutes and marriage licenses, scanned and placed on the website. Bradshaw said he will look at the possibility of shredding any documents the county is not required to keep when the items are scanned.
“I’m hoping once we get it all in, and we know that it’s there and know it’s safe, start shredding,” Bradshaw said. “I’m hoping it’ll happen. Of course, like I said that’s the ones that we can shred, and I would probably reach out to CTAS (County Technical Assistance Services) even before we start that process to make double sure, ‘Hey, can we start disposing of some of this now?’ Of course, if we ever do the shredding we’ll shred and recycle.”
According to CTAS, retention schedules for permanent holdings include some, but not all records, in general sessions court, county highway departments, juvenile court, planning and zoning offices, register of deeds, sheriff’s office, county trustee, circuit and criminal courts, accounting and purchasing departments, clerk and master, county clerk departments, county election commissions, mayor offices and education departments.
Bradshaw said disposing of documents no longer needed could free up space in the county office building.
Steve Fritts, Loudon County technology director, said plans to update the website have been put on hold for “more pressing things,” such as helping install cables and Internet infrastructure in the new county office building expansion for the finance department. He anticipated work on the website will be back underway sometime as early as January.
“So we’re still working on it,” Fritts said. “We have got I believe most of the county commission minutes scanned in most of the books from the clerk’s office, and we’ve got them broken out into the individual meetings. That took a long time to do, so they’re on the website, but the links are not there because I want to do some other things to get that ready to go. So we’re still working on the search functionality, and so it’s just been pushed back due to other things that have come up. It’s still on the table.”
Bradshaw said he would like to make the website more user-friendly, such as implementing a search tool and adding departmental photos to help “put a face to the name.”
Fritts said the idea to possibly add a community calendar to the website and make it mobile-friendly for cellphones and tablets has also been discussed. The county’s website has not been optimized for mobile use, he said.
“I want Steve to do — our IT department, Steve and Tommy (Lewis, IT assistant), are great at what they do,” Bradshaw said. “I’m very comfortable to turn it over to them. ... If we can keep it in-house, I want to keep (it) in-house.”
The goal is to improve the website before adding more public documents, Bradshaw said.
“When we put these old documents in, you’ve got to have a search tool where you’d have, my goodness, hundreds of thousands if not millions of documents to look through,” Bradshaw said. “When we add these in it’s going to be a process of tagging them, giving them a specific name and along with that a search tool to add to the website as well. That’s one thing we don’t have now is a search tool, and sometimes I’m a little bit more used to it, and I still have to look several places when I’m looking for something specific.”
Fritts said Loudon County Commission meeting minutes currently scanned can be traced back to the early 1970s.
“We’ve got them all broken out into the individual meetings, and we’ve got them all with a text overlay so that they’re searchable because when you scan them in that’s not included most of the time,” Fritts said. “So we had to go back and add that, so that added some time.
“But also the way the scanner — some of those documents, they were not very good copies when they were put in the books, and so the software that converts those to searchable text,” he added. “They didn’t come out good. So, those are going to have to be a lot of them manually edited.
“So there’s just been things that have come up like that that have also added time to getting it finished,” he said.