12 February 2016

Initial Assessment of Cherry County Document Storage and Conditions

Prepared by James E. Ducey for the Cherry County Commissioner meeting on February 9, 2016 [and as copies of the single page document were provided to each commissioner, with an ensuing discussion during the morning of the meeting at the county building on Main street]

A quick review was done of Cherry County documents stored in the basement of the county building was done January 29th by Jim Ducey and Betty Dougherty, the gracious county assessor. About thirty minutes were spent looking at the material to get an initial sense of the historic material present and the storage conditions.

There are many stored items of obvious historic importance, including:
* Personal assessment records, grouped by precinct [or village in one case, i.e., 1927], dating back to at least 1915
* Pauper register
* Coyote bounty payment booklets of the 1920s and 1930s tied together by twine, while strewn on a shelf
* School attendance records
* Minutes for annual budget meetings for rural schools, including figures on budgeted costs and other distinctive details associated with student education
* Record of discharge for some veterans
* Soldier’s relief warrants from the early 1900s though at least the next few decades
* Treasurer’s cash book
* Improvement schedules for particular ranches in the different county precincts (i.e., 1945)
* Physician register indicating doctors that could practice within the county
* Records of liens placed upon personal property when a bank loan was issued
* Register of shipments of intoxicating liquors
* A box of microfilm records from 1955 to ca. 1970s, which may be assessment records
* Other unknown material that has not been cataloged by county officials now responsible for protecting public records
Two examples of stored material as observed January 29th. Note how some of the items are not properly placed on the shelves or are being stored in dusty conditions. This is not a suitable situation for archiving records, and immediate improvements are necessary.

Numerous conditions not suitable for long-term conservation were: 1) pervasive dust on the material and no measures underway to limit its future accumulation; 2) unsuitable organization of material with different dates placed in no organized manner; 3) presence of bugs, including dead box elder bugs; 4) unsuitable placement of material on a limited extent of shelves; 5) Record items stored in former paper boxes without any organization or identification; and, 6) metal paper clips used on paper material which taints the document quality. These conditions were most obvious. Also, some census records are being kept outside the primary storage area.

In order to properly conserve these public records efforts need to occur immediately to suitably identify and organize the material and find permanent storage facilities in order to permanently protect the paper-based documents. This effort should focus first on items with a greater value (i.e., some ledger books have more entries than others which might have only a few items denoted).

Deed records and many other essential sources of county history are readily available at an office within the county courthouse. The records can be easily found and evaluated whenever the office is open. Why is it that other material of similar origin and importance requires a specific request due to limitations on access as they are kept unrecognized in the basement of the court house? County record keeping is selective and seems arbitrary.

This history of Cherry county needs to have secure and readily available public access for residents and visitors so research can be easily done, without onerous limitations on access. A catalog is an essential need, yet no efforts are underway to provide this source so people know what to request in their endeavor to learn more about the vivid history of Cherry county and its people.

No measures to improve storage conditions of these unique documents were initiated at the February 9, 2016 meeting by the three county commissioners. One commissioner was not aware of the several points made in a document provided December 29, 2015 to the county clerk for presentation to the commissioners. There has never been any action taken in response to an email from a UNL professional, also provided to the commissioners in early January 2016. During the discussion the point was made that the recently enacted protocols for access just need to be followed. My response was: how can someone request particular records if they do not know what records are available. There was an agreement that time would be provided on a limited basis by the county assessor or alternatively the county clerk to allow further review of the records in the basement, to evaluate what is present to facilitate record access requests.

This is how the presentation was indicated in the minutes of the county commissioner meeting.

County assessor Betty Dougherty and Jim Ducey addressed the Board regarding archived County records. Mr. Ducey presented a written initial assessment of document storage and conditions, primarily in the basement of the Courthouse. He identified some conditions that might not be suitable for long term preservation of the material. He encouraged the Board to consider cataloging the records and improve the storage and public accessibility of the records. No formal Board action was taken at this time. Valentine Midland News, February 17, 2016; page 8.