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Libraries help make public records more accessible

Michele Presley, director of the Addison Township Public Library, invites people to access public records online at her facility. An instruction manual and brochures on how to use the Oakland County Clerk’s website are available at the library. (click for larger version)
May 19, 2010 - Oxford and Addison's public libraries are the newest branch offices for the Oakland County Clerk.

They joined 34 other county libraries as part of the recently-launched Library CARD Project.

"I couldn't see any down side to it," said Wendy Mutch, head of adult services at the Oxford library.

CARD stands for "Convenience and Access to Records and Documents."

As partners in the project, the Oxford and Addison libraries are now offering brochures and instruction manuals on how to access public records through the county clerk's website

"It will help folks," said Addison Library Director Michele Presley. "It is step-by-step. It's very easy to follow."

Using the clerk's website, residents can obtain a wide variety of public records (see shaded box right) from the comfort of their local library.

"They can order their child's birth certificate, watch a video on how to vote, request a copy of their deed, apply for a marriage license, use court records to check out a company or find out who is contributing money to local political candidates, all from that computer," said county Clerk Ruth Johnson.

"I think it's a great service," Mutch said. "I actually had a couple of ladies come in and they needed the brochure to find the (website's) location."

Using the website can save residents a trip to the clerk's office in Pontiac and the gas money to get there. They can order documents on-line at the local library and have them mailed to their home.

"With this economy, we just can't open satellite offices in other parts of the county," Johnson said. "But nearly every community has a library that is open into the night and on weekends."

"It's just another way to make things convenient for folks because a lot of people don't have internet access at home anymore," Presley noted. "They've had to disconnect their internet at home because they couldn't afford it anymore."

It's estimated that more than 20 percent of county households do not have internet access.

Due to the poor economy, local libraries have seen a huge surge in the number of patrons using their computers.

"I've noticed internet usage gone up significantly as the economy goes down," Presley said. "We've had a lot of people using it for job applications, unemployment, job searches."

A national study released in April found that nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a library computer or wireless network to access the internet in the last year.

The study found that low-income adults were more likely than any other group to rely on the library as their sole access to computers and the internet.

"We have one internet work station and it gets used a great deal of the time," Presley said. "We've actually had a line on occasion. It doesn't happen very often."

"I would say (accessing the internet) is one of the most popular things people do here," Mutch said. "We have regular users, definitely."

The Oxford library has 11 computers in the adult area, seven in the teen department and five in the children's area.

All of them are hooked up to the internet.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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