Open Records Frustration-Poorly Indexed Digital Files Versus Paper (2013)Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas

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Open Records Frustration-Poorly Indexed Digital Files Versus Paper (2013)

2 July 2013 at 11:20:26 AM

I have quite often gone to the Somervell County clerk's office in the past to look through archived paper documents. I was lucky, I guess, that the clerk knew where the boxes were in the back, and they were organized by year. So, I could get a box and look through the paper, flipping through and putting aside the documents that were not germane while scanning the page for the information I wanted.

Sometime in the last year, Somervell County decided to no longer keep paper archives of at least some documents,  to include Somervell County Commissioner court documents such as agendas and meeting minutes. All in PDF digital format now and accessible through a system one can go into the courthouse to use. (Or, alternatively, if you do an open records request of the Public Information Officer, who is Candy Garrett, that person would be using that system to fulfill your request).

The problem with this is that the documents are not fully text searchable, ie, run through an OCR-Optical character recognition-program, but only have a keyword category with them. If you are looking, say, for a given company and when it might have had dealings before the court, you can't find that out as the keywords are very general descriptors. For example, I wanted to know who and which companies have been given tax abatements by Somervell County for the past years since 2009. There are no keywords for tax abatement. So, I would need to bring up every single document in the system that has to do with Somervell County minutes or attachments and look at each one of them.

Now, you may say, you were willing to do that if it was paper. And yes, I was and am. Reason is that it is much much easier, at least for me, to look at a paper document or flip through sections than it is to click on a document, have to zoom in to read it, probably scroll around on the page to try to see different parts that won't show on a smaller monitor, and then do the same thing with the next page. It isn't only me. This affects the people who are fulfilling the open records requests-if they get a query asking for X data, they would also have to bring up each document and peruse it to see if it looks relevant.

I actually do agree with the idea of replacing paper backup with electronic documents but only where digital is actually not just semi-useful but superior to having paper. The current system at Somervell County is only semi-useful. The answer to making a functional system is to make the documents have full text searches, not just for a keyword. If we were talking about technology from 10 years ago, this might be a pipe dream, but even my own copy of Adobe Acrobat allows me to do OCR on my PDF (and I am not using the most current version of Acrobat!) . It might be that the company that supplies this system has no way to do full text searches on documents, but maybe it does and it's simply not being implemented. If the latter, anyone could look for, say, Mesa Tech, and have it pull up any agenda items or minutes in which the words "Mesa Tech" appear. Or, suppose I was wanting to look at golf course vendors; having a full text search would be not only practical but optimal.

A system that cannot do this is not up to date with the technologies of today, cause more work for both the requestor and the person who is the Chief Public Information Officer who has to fulfill these requests. We suggest that Somervell County come technologically up to date by adding full text searches to archived documents.

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