Sharon Carpenter and The Super Scanner

From October 15, 2014, Riverfront Times cover story, Sharon Carpenter’s Strange Fight for the Recorder of Deeds Office,” by Danny Wicentowski

And there’s still so much she wants to accomplish — just weeks before her departure, she says, she finally found a scanner powerful enough to digitize records laminated by archivists in the 1950s, a process that all but destroys the original documents if the plastic is removed. The same scanner will let her finish preserving thousands more marriage documents.

The only laminated records maintained in the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds Office are the French-Spanish Colonial Collection.

The scanning of these records by the Recorder’s Imaging/Microfilm Department was completed earlier this year, while Sharon Carpenter was still Recorder, using existing equipment.

The records were scanned in black and white using the document feeder of an 11×17 scanner, per Carpenter’s instructions this past Spring. The records were also scanned a second time in color using the office’s large plat plotter.

I have knowledge of this project because it was my job to make sure the pages of these binder-style books were in correct order. No easy task. There are no page numbers. Some records are in French with no translation. Some are in Spanish with no translation. My “Colonial St. Louis” French is good. Spanish not so much. Pages were out-of-order because there had never been any regulation on access to the books. In some cases, I found pages were not even in the correct book.

The lamination was performed by a bookbinding company (the same company which provided services for land record books), not archivists.

The lamination was performed during Sharon Quigley Carpenter’s first or second term as Recorder, not during the 1950s.

Lamination of precious records had once been all the rage in the preservation community, including National Archives and Library of Congress. By 1980, the year Carpenter first became Recorder, lamination had become taboo. But she went the lamination route anyway.

While laminated historical documents became preservation nightmares all across the country, the French-Spanish Colonial Collection at the St. Louis City Recorder’s Office remains in perfect condition, an anomaly. It was once something she took great personal pride.

– Marie Ceselski


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