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Net may put maps online to long life

The Internet may play a big part in helping Utah County preserve history, but at what price?

Assistant county recorder Rod Campbell says when the county's new software and scanning equipment comes online, precious maps and originals now at risk from too much handling, will be measurably safer.Controversy comes in when county officials try to determine if they'll be giving away information that has generated revenue in the past.

"What we have," Campbell said after the County Commission reviewed how the new equipment might affect collection of fees and Internet freedom of access, "is a charge to see to record pres-er-va-tion."

When large items like subdivision plat maps or annexation plats need to be copied, the employees in the recorder's office use a copy machine that can reproduce the large-size copies.

But the handling - especially frequent handling - is hard on the linen materials.

"These have to last forever," Campbell said "We're concerned about longevity. We'd really like to get them into a situation where they are not being handled."

Currently, many maps are copied at half-size and then copies are created from the copy. That helps cut down on the wear and tear, said Campbell, but he'd like to see a day when all of the originals can be housed in a fireproof, controlled environment such as in the room the county owns in the Security Center in Spanish Fork.

Internet access to the records and maps could make that possible sooner.

"The reason we exist (as a county recorder's office) is to make public records available to everybody. This would be a tool available with tremendous benefits to the staff as well as the public."

The new equipment - a scanner, a large format plotter, software that stores the large scale information and makes it available through a digital copier and printer - is costing the county about $100,000. The software offers pan and zoom capability to those accessing the records.

Someone who wants to check a map will be able to read all of the markings made on the original.

Those concerned over whether the Internet access shouldn't come free after the county has invested in the new equipment should realize the county is already charged with preserving such documents and with making them available to the public, Campbell said.

Others worry that the county will suffer a loss from fees that won't be paid for copies.

Campbell said that shouldn't be a big issue because those who need full-size copies will still need to come in and pay for those at $4 a copy. Those who just come in to read the maps or documents aren't usually paying the county anything at that point anyway.

Neil Peterson, director of the county's computer department, says he believes the commission will need to determine exactly what their policy will be.

He said a precedent has been set by Salt Lake County for charging for copies downloaded over the Internet. And Utah County has traditionally charged a number of customers for computer access. That would probably be expanded if the commissioners elect not to give the information away.

"I think this whole issue will come up again soon and have to be wrestled to the ground," said Neil Peterson, director of the computer department for the county. "We'll probably bring it up again once the equipment we just purchased is put in place."

"Philosophically, I'm in favor of making it available for free," said Peterson, "but I think the county is concerned about losing fees." How-ever, if the maps are available via the Internet, no one has to stop their work and make a customer a copy.