Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Instrument Numbers

When we presented his packet of already recorded and scanned documents back to the first customer of the day yesterday, he asked if there was a problem with our numbering system because his documents had been assigned instrument numbers 1, 2 and 3. While the customer’s confusion was understandable, there was no mistake. For the last fifty years, at least, instrument numbers have “rolled over” with the first of the year. I assume that the numbers roll over because with tens of thousands of documents each year, sequential numbers would soon get unwieldy, taking seven or more spaces for a single instrument number. The current system is not without its faults. To retrieve a document by instrument number also requires the year the document was recorded. Having to enter two pieces of information make it just as easy to retrieve a document by its book and page number.

The reason we have instrument numbers in the first place is because all of the recording systems prior to our present one (which was installed in 2002) did not assign a book and page number to a newly recorded document until well after the customer’s role in the transaction was complete. In pre-computer times there was much shuffling of documents to reach the maximum number of pages that were placed in each book, so the book and page number was assigned long after the actual recording took place. Our current computer system assigns the book and page number and the instrument number simultaneously, so we could conceivably dispense with the instrument number. However, we keep it for several reasons. Many systems that have long been in place and continue to have utility require the instrument number. By keeping it, we ensure a type of backwards compatibility. Also, people often make mistakes when copying a book and page number so the instrument number gives us a second means of identifying a document which is useful when a mistake occurs with the book and page system.

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