Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Assigning book and page numbers to documents

Yesterday a customer brought to our attention the unusual spacing of the page numbers of a first and second mortgage on the same property that were recorded sequentially back in 2004.  The first mortgage was assigned Book xxxxx, Page 109 and the second mortgage was assigned Book xxxxx, Page 111.  What made this odd was the fact that the first mortgage was 22 pages long.  The images of all 22 pages are present in our computer system so there's nothing missing. It's just unusual for the document that follows a 22 page document be only 2 pages further along in the numbering system.

The explanation is simple, but it also serves to illustrate an important distinction between traditional books and those that exist in electronic form only. 

To understand what happened in this case, you must first understand our sequence of work when recording a document.  This was a walk-in customer and the two mortgages were part of a larger set that had to be recorded together.  The registry of deeds clerk who first encountered the customer would have reviewed each document to ensure it was signed and acknowledged and then would count the pages of the document, writing the number of pages counted in the upper left corner.  The next registry clerk (back in the hectic days of 2004 we were almost always working in teams at the recording counter; today it is more an individual task) would key certain information from the document into our computer system.  Included in that information would be the number of pages in the document.  With a set of multiple documents, all data for each document is entered and the cashiering transaction is "completed" (i.e.,  fees are collected and a book and page number is assigned to each document by the computer) before any of the documents in that set are scanned.

In this case, when the person counting the document wrote the number of pages - 22 - on the front of the document, the second "2" was smudged and so when the second clerk entered the data into the computer, the "number of pages" field got a "2".  This caused the computer to jump just two pages, not twenty-two, when assigning the next number.  The label on the first mortgage has "Page: 1 of 2" on it.

When we discovered this discrepancy at the scanning station, we simply crossed out the "2" in "1 of 2" and wrote "22" in its place.  When we scanned the document, the system would have alerted us that the number of pages we scanned for that document exceeded the number of pages entered into the computer and asked us if we wanted to proceed (this is a guard against inadvertently scanning two documents together).  When we answered "yes" to override the page numbers, all 22 pages were scanned and all are available when the document at book xxxxx, page 109 is retrieved. 

In the old days when physical books were created, this would have been a problem because all of these extra pages would have to be added.  Back then, we would assign letters to each of the extra pages so that they would be page 109A, 109B, 109C and so on.  Because our paperless system does not have physical pages, we can put as many pages as we want between two "book and page" numbers and not have a problem which is what happened here.

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