PRIMGHAR — A visitor from a software company in Columbus, OH, arrived in O’Brien County earlier this month to digitize physical records of the county’s history in the 21st century.
Michael Elvin, a scanning technician with Cott Systems Inc., took to the courthouse meeting room on April 20 to scan records belonging to Recorder Susan Smith’s office.
“We scan the index books for the deeds of the city lots on the land, and then we also do the records to go along with them,” Elvin said. “Eventually, they will be put online, and they will be viewable by anyone in the country or in the world.”
The County Board of Supervisors approved a $112,960 deal with Cott Systems on Nov. 2 for digitization projects. That money was allocated from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds — $26,095 for auditor’s records and $86,865 for recorder’s records.
Elvin came to O’Brien County about a month ago to scan the auditor’s records. To digitally copy old documents, Elvin runs the individual pages through a WideTEK 36DS scanner. He can then examine the digital rendering of the page on a computer screen.
“He’s able to do things up to about 3 feet wide, so those big flats that they have sometimes, we can scan them through there. He does the up and down,” Elvin said.
Scanning all the pages of a single registration book can take around 45 minutes, although Elvin said this depends on the size of the book.
The recorder books themselves have undergone repair work in recent years thanks to Waukee-based bookbinder Jim Mori. The job is to laminate each page and rebind the books so the tomes work more like loose-leaf binders.
The county’s physical records date back to its founding in the late 1800s until the offices transitioned to online record keeping. The Archivist’s Office switched to computers in 1988, while the Auditor’s Office removed physical records in 2000.
N’West Iowa is about as far west as Cott Systems in its 21-state service area.
“We go down to Texas so far. About a month ago when I was here doing auditor work, I was in Adams, Montgomery, and Mills counties,” Elvin said.
He plans to stay in O’Brien County until early May to finish scanning documents for the clerk’s office.
Auditor Barb Rohwer said Elvin’s digitization work is “the fastest part” when it comes to the County Archives digitization process.
“Going through the information and putting it together to upload it, I think is going to take some time,” she said.
The goal is to make the digital recordings available to the public later this summer.
After the scanning job is completed, there will be a test period to ensure the system is working. Office workers will also need to be trained so that they know how to use the online program to access scanned documents.
Some sensitive file information — such as social security numbers — will also need to be redacted on online renderings. On November 15, the county passed a resolution to allocate $6,050 in bailout funding for Cott Systems to do the writing work.
Another tech-related development in the county funded by bailout dollars recently launched: an informational texting service called TextMyGov.
In late February, the county approved $9,000 in rescue funds to register for the web service, which allows members of the public to ask questions or report concerns to the county at any time of the day. The service went live last week.
Many TextMyGov automated responses also send links or other information from the county website.
The free service can be accessed by simply texting “Hi” to 712-214-1114 or specific county department keywords to 91896. Doing the latter will allow users to opt in to notifications from the department of their choice.
The keywords of the department are:
- OBCEMA for emergency management agency notifications.
- OBCMVDL for motor vehicle or driver’s license notifications.
- OBCORVBOAT for recorder renewal notifications.
- OBCSHERIFF for notifications from the sheriff’s office.
- OBCTAX for property tax returns.
- OBCVOTE for voting notifications.
- OCCBPARK for county park notifications.
- OCCBPROGRAM for environmental education notifications.
- OCCBVOLUNTEER for conservation volunteer notifications.
Once users have submitted the initial keyword, they will receive a confirmation message asking them to answer “YES” to verify their intention to register. After that, users can receive up to four SMS notifications per month for each category in which they register.
Rohwer said flyers with information about the service will be posted around the courthouse. The Registrar’s Office will also send flyers with renewal notices to residents, and the Treasurer’s Office will do the same when distributing tax slips.