Lowndes Chancery Clerk Lisa Neese flips through record books in the courthouse vault Tuesday. Neese requested funds from the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors to have five books of similar size restored by Kofile Technologies, headquartered in Dallas. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
December 20, 2017 11:08:47 AM
The Lowndes County Chancery Court will receive a nearly $16,000 Christmas present this year from the board of supervisors.
Five of the court's public record books -- the most recent of which date back to 1920 -- will be restored by Kofile Technologies, a record preservation company headquartered in Dallas. Chancery Court Clerk Lisa Younger Neese said she thinks the oldest documents set to be restored date to the 1830s. The restoration process, which a Kofile Technologies representative said will take 12-14 weeks, is expected to cost $15,929, according to numbers provided to The Dispatch by Neese.
"It's important to me that these records are safe and sound," said Neese, who is the court's primary record keeper.
Neese presented her plan for restoration at the county's board of supervisors meeting Friday. She only provided one price bid.
"[Neese] could not find another company that did this type of work, so the board ruled that it was a sole source provider and went ahead and accepted the quote," said county administrator Ralph Billingsley.
Neese said the books needing repair had brittle, torn pages and worn bindings.
According to Jeff Peeler, a record conservator for Kofile Technologies, the books will go through the same type of extensive restoration and mending process used by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
"These are going through a full archival preservation," Peeler said. "Each page is removed from each book one at a time."
Peeler collected Lowndes County's five record books Dec. 4 and took them to Kofile's Dallas laboratory, though Neese noted Kofile did not start working on the books until she gained approval from the board. Peeler will deliver the records to Columbus when the restoration is complete.
Peeler, who has worked in document restoration for more than 40 years, said most legal document books in old courthouses were assembled with paper made of cotton. He said this type of paper has a high level of acidity, and the acid eats away at the paper over time, causing yellow discoloration and weak edges. Kofile's work is intended to fix that.
"Once these pages are deacidified and mended, they're placed into archival polyester sleeves and into new record binders," Peeler said. "The actual human hands never touch the document after this point. The public will only be handling the polyester sleeve itself."
Neese said the last time chancery court documents were restored was 2006, when the court had an out-of-town family experienced with the work come in to clean and laminate pages in several books and place them in new bindings.
"It's hard to get people to do this work anymore because it's so boring," she said.
The process can also be extremely time-extensive, Peeler added.
"Most of these books have between 250 and 300 pages, and we take it one page at a time," he said.
In 2002 the Lowndes Chancery Court office started digitalizing records, but those produced prior to that year exist as physical books in the court's record vault. Neese estimates the vault houses more than 1,000 volumes.
Peeler said Kofile could digitalize the five books they have for about $1.50 a page, front and back. That price, which would be in addition to the $16,000 restoration, includes the cost of using computer software to enhance the scanned copy of a document to remove dark spots and tighten lettering. Neese opted out of digitalization.
"I would love to digitalize all of them, but it would be a lot of money," she said.
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