It used to take just a minute to sell a fishing license at the city clerk’s office. The clerk would fill out the form, hand half to the angler and file the other half.
Then computers came along and the whole operation was digitized to make the office “more efficient,” Deputy Clerk Eileen Versaci noted grimly, as it took her half an hour to sell one license on Friday.
The computer froze. Then it wouldn’t recognize the keyboard. After two clerks tried to get it to work, they called tech support — and after another 15 minutes, the license program slowly chugged back to life.
“When it does work, it works great,” Versaci said. “But when it doesn’t, it’s a royal pain.”
Because of the occasions when the computers failed, Versaci wasn’t too enthusiastic when the city recently bought a new program that would digitize most of the clerk’s office records: birth, death and marriage certificates.
On the one hand, clerks wouldn’t have to search for records filed in heavy books that are falling apart. But on the other hand, they’d have to use the notorious computer instead.
“I hate it, because I hate computers,” Versaci said bluntly.
In her 10 years at City Hall, she’s watched computers slowly creep into every operation at the clerk’s office. The death and marriage certificates are among the last paper records to become computerized.
Not everyone at the clerk’s office was unhappy to find out they’d have to learn a new computer program to retrieve those records this fall. Information processing specialist Joan Boomer was thrilled, even though it’s become her job to spend tedious hours scanning in old marriage certificates to create the digital copies that the program finds during a search.
“My initial reaction was, it’s going to make life a lot easier,” Boomer said. “Those books are too heavy for me. No, I was in favor of it — show me how and I’ll do it!”
After a year of using the computer to find birth records, Versaci had to admit the process was far easier than searching for old records in storage. But no one’s quite figured out the program for death and marriage certificates yet.
Those are the most popular requests at the clerks’ office. Residents need death certificates to resolve the deceased’s estate or prove that they can remarry. Marriage certificates are needed to prove relationships for Social Security benefits or to prepare for a divorce.
So far, clerks find it’s easier and faster to search for those in long rows of heavy books than to try to find them on the computer.
“Eventually, we’ll be very good at it,” Versaci said. “We’re very good with births — we’ve got that down to a science.”
Part of the problem is that only about 13 years of deaths are in the computerized records so far. A part-time clerk is scanning in the certificates, but until more are completed, clerks still have to look up the physical records in response to many requests.
There are even fewer marriage certificates in the system — the clerks started by scanning the 1980s — so the clerks haven’t been able to enjoy the fruits of their labor yet.
Still, when they happen to get a request for a record that’s in digital form, it takes roughly five seconds to locate it. Finding the original copy takes much longer.
So while Versaci says the system is “challenging,” she’s secretly glad to have it.
“As time goes on we hire fewer and fewer people. The computers are a big help,” she said.
Then she couldn’t help but add, “But when they crash, we’re in big trouble.”
Categories: Schenectady County