On-Site Team Leverages Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion to Scan and Index More Than 750K Historical Records and Images
Located northeast of Houston, Liberty County in Texas has a population of more than 76,000 people with lands that cover nearly 1,200 square miles. The County Clerk’s office manages approximately 75,000 land parcel records, with office personnel processing 100 to 300 documents per day. The County features such a widespread area that many citizens have to travel 30 miles or more to reach the County offices.
Having worked with Liberty County as an oil and gas landman for several years before coming on board as County Clerk, Paulette Williams already knew the County books that stored property images, documents and plat maps were deteriorating rapidly. “The more we use the books, the more the documents became worn and tattered,” Williams says. “We knew they would not last much longer, and given the historical importance of the documents, we needed to start preserving them.”
In addition to protecting land documents and images, Williams also wanted to streamline the process for viewing documents. Each time a document requires a review, the staff has to locate the appropriate book, unbind the book, and retrieve the document while requestors wait. The staff then has to go through the process in reverse once the document review is completed.
“In addition to the burden this placed on our staff time, the process was also a hassle for our citizens that often have to travel long distances to reach our offices,” Williams adds. “We wanted to find a solution that would make it easier and faster for citizens to access the land documents they require.”
To initially address the challenge, the Liberty County staff started creating digital images of the land documents by scanning current documents as well as historical documents when spare time allowed. But with more than 750,000 documents and nearly 5,000 plat maps, the task proved insurmountable. The County staff made some progress, but the process was painfully slow since the staff spends most of its day taking care of daily tasks and citizen requests.
“It took us about a year to scan a year’s worth of historical documents, and to create a truly efficient system, we needed to index the documents so each one could be found quickly,” Williams says. “We also wanted to make the records available to citizens via the Internet so they would not have to travel at all.”
The Solution: Thomson Reuters Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion
To take on the land-document scanning and indexing challenge, Liberty County turned to Thomson Reuters, which has provided integrated records management solutions to the County for many years. “For the scanning phase, we first collaborated with an oil and gas landman, who wanted to scan all of our documents and offered to provide us with copies,” Williams says. “But the process bogged down, and we soon realized scanning and indexing integration is critical. Scanning documents to create digital copies helps preserve them, but indexing is required for efficient access.”
Thomson Reuters suggested that Liberty County leverage the Thomson Reuters Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion Module. The module converts hard-copy media into digital images and provides rapid, highly-accurate indexing as well as indexing verification. In addition to providing secure and cost-effective storage of paper and digital images, Backfile Conversion also offers accurate redaction of personal information from public documents.
“There are other firms we could have turned to for basic scanning, but the combination of scanning, high-quality imaging and indexing Thomson Reuters offers is a unique, key differentiator,” says Williams. “Indexing enables a smooth and seamless search experience—without it, we would still spend a lot of time looking for documents.”
Another key aspect for the County in partnering with Thomson Reuters is the ability to help justify the cost of solutions. For funding, Williams needs to work with the Commissioner’s Court, which has to approve any records-management-fund spending by the County.
“Thomson Reuters came through for my team by presenting all key information that clearly demonstrated the ROI of Backfile Conversion,” Williams says. “They made it easier for the Commissioner’s Court to understand the value of the solution so we could secure the funding.”
The Deployment: On-Site Services Allow County to Maintain Land Document Control
“Given the number of years we had to go back and the quantity of the documents, it made perfect sense to work with Thomson Reuters,” Williams says. “With their team working on site, we did not have to worry about our documents being damaged while outside of our control.”To digitize the 750,000+ documents and images, Thomson Reuters provided a six-person, on-site team that scanned historical maps, plats and public-record documents going back to 1875. Records prior to 1875 no longer existed due to the courthouse burning to the ground in 1874.
Thomson Reuters completed the scanning phase in less than four weeks. As the documents are indexed, Thomson Reuters loads them into the County recording system, which will soon be upgraded to the latest version of Thomson Reuters Aumentum Recorder.
“The indexing links to all key information on each land parcel, such as grantors and grantees,” Williams says. “As long as we have just a little bit of information on a property, we will be able to easily locate the records.”
Williams emphasizes the benefit of Thomson Reuters providing a scanning service that allows counties to keeps their records on-site during the process: “We have approximately 600 original volumes and a whole other series of books consisting of photo copies,” Williams explains. “We did not want to remove them because we conduct research every day. With the Thomson Reuters team scanning our documents on-site, we were able to keep using the books during the project. The public could always access the books as well.”
With documents scanned and indexed, the Liberty County staff can easily search for images and specific information to quickly access land documents. County citizens can also access all the documents online, which eliminates citizen travel time and gives them access to documents sooner in their research efforts.
“We are here to serve the citizens of the County, so anything we do that makes the land document process easier for them reflects well on us,” Williams emphasizes. “The combination of high-quality, indexed images made available to the public online essentially allows our document access processes to function much more efficiently.”
The public can self-service many land-research needs via the online portal that’s included within Aumentum Recorder, and the system allows them to pay for each document online. This eliminates a significant amount administrative time for the County staff.
“With our upgrade to Aumentum Recorder, we can also tie everything together efficiently,” Williams adds. “The scanned and indexed, high-quality images integrated with Aumentum Recorder will allow us to more easily manage land parcel documents. We enjoy working with Thomson Reuters and have developed a strong partnership that should continue well into the future. Their solutions are well worth the investment.”