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The Herald: Keep York County records safe

County officials need to inventory records and find an appropriate place to store them.

August 2, 2013 

Water damage to York County property records, some of them dating to the early 1900s, was a terrible loss to the county and its residents. But Clerk of Court David Hamilton touched on a much larger concern: the county doesn’t have a suitable place to store its records.

Recent storms flooded a room at the McCelvey Center in York where dozens of boxes containing at least 12,000 bound record books had been temporarily stored. The mess was discovered July 22 when a county employee happened to enter the room.

It was only by chance that the damaged books were noticed. The room is not regularly monitored, and the records might still be sitting in the wet boxes if somone hadn’t noticed them.

All the records have backups, either digital or physical copies. Nonetheless, the older books containing original records dating to the turn of the century have intrinsic historical value.

The records had been shipped over to McCelvey from the nearby York County Courthouse, which is being renovated. Other records are stored in the Belk Building, which has not experienced flooding because records are stored at street level.

It seems fair to ask why officials decided to store vulnerable paper records in a room at the McCelvey Center that might be susceptible to flooding. The 700-square-foot room also is not equipped to maintain the ideal environment for storing historical documents, with controls for temperature and humidity.

Officials said the decision to store the documents at McCelvey was one of logistics. The center is county property and there were no nearby private storage alternatives.

But with all the rain drenching the county this spring and summer, it might have occurred to county officials that the records were at risk at McCelvey.Granted, both the public and private sectors rely heavily on electronic records for day-to-day operations. But securely stored physical records also are essential in many cases.

It also is crucial to preserve older records, particularly those with historical value. With records now stored at many locations throughout the county, officials have little way of knowing which might be susceptible to damage.

We hope the county will conduct an inventory of important documents and ensure that they are safe from the type of catastrophe that occurred at McCelvey. The ultimate goal should be an environmentally secure and easily accessible central storage area.

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