NORWAY — Pam Woodworth was hired at the Oxford County Registry of Deeds in Paris in 1997 when county documents were still archived by hand.
In 2004, she and registry clerk Debra Smith began the painstaking process of taking 2,781 books filled with county documents dating back to 1960 and transferring them to a digital database.
Patricia Shearman, register of deeds, said Woodworth and Smith have been combing through the 455,000 documents without using a cent of taxpayer money.
“This is a project that could have been outsourced at taxpayer expense, but Pam and Deb saw it as the ideal project to pick up and put down when they had free time,” Shearman said.
She said if the registry put the project out to bid today, it would have cost around $200,000.
Woodworth, who is planning to retire as deputy register on Nov. 10, said she “likes a good challenge.”
“It really was just a good group of people making a team effort to get it done,” she said. “I didn’t look at it as a chore. We had some spare time and we used it to get this project done.”
She added with a smile, “I didn’t know at the time it would take 10 years, but I’m glad we did it.”
Shearman said to transfer a majority of the documents into the digital database, they had to “treat the old documents as if they were just coming through the door.”
She said that any document from 1960 to 1971 would be treated like a brand new document, taking pertinent information off of the document so people can find it in the digital database.
The documents were proofread and scanned into the database so people could find them online.
“It took a lot of time, but it was the perfect project to do when we had nothing that needed to be done,” Woodworth said.
Woodworth said that in the 20 years she’s worked at the Registry of Deeds, she’s seen a number of changes, both minor and major.
“We used to take pictures of every document, and when the book was filled, we’d send it to New York,” she said. “They’d create books from the images, send it back, and we’d proofread it. If the images weren’t good, we’d do retakes and send the images back to New York to get better images. Now, we scan the images here. We get better images and it’s a much faster process.”
She was also present for the shift from printing paper books to drafting digital books.
However, Woodworth said the biggest change was the creation of a website.
“With a website, people don’t have to come into the registry now,” she said. “They can look up the documents they need online, at home, at maineregistryofdeeds.com.”
Woodworth said that after she retires, she plans to spend most of her time catching up on “rest and relaxation” and reading.
She said her husband recently built a cabin near Mt. Chase in northern Maine, and they will “be spending a good amount of time up there.”
Shearman called Woodworth “an invaluable member of the office staff,” and said that her and her knowledge will be “greatly missed.”