By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
No longer do you need to dig through musty files at your county courthouse to find a treasure trove of knowledge.
Get a bird's eye view of your neighborhood, without ever leaving the house.
Thanks to GIS – geographic information systems, it's just a quick search away.
"A name of a business, building, subdivision you want to go to, park, anything, just start typing it in. As long as you get three letters in there," Kurt Spiehs explained.
He manages the system for the city of Grand Island. Hastings, Kearney, North Platte and other cities have similar systems that are becoming more powerful all the time, even adding high resolution photos.
"You can see a tennis ball on a tennis court," Spiehs said of upgrades coming soon.
Professionals use it to look up school boundaries, even locations of water lines.
Spiehs said, "I get calls from bankers, appraisers, real estate agents. They use this, I'm sure daily. Seems like every time I run into a banker or appraiser or something, they always have some comment and we actually get a lot of positive feedback."
Some don't react so positively when they realize personal information is online. But personal and private are different, and information like this has always been available, just not this easily.
Instead of going to city hall or the courthouse, it's on the web.
Spiehs said, "You get it off the Internet which does make it easier, or actually go up to the office and get if from them."
Journalism professor Sharon Brooks of Hastings College says it's a lot easier than digging up stuff the old fashioned way, in musty books of deeds or filing cabinets.
She said, "Now that information has been placed in PDF form and put out for people, it's not just historical but investments, it's taking a look at growth and potential for certain parts of town."
Agendas for public meetings, jail logs, even mugshots are now free to anyone with Internet access.
And some believe the more is out there, the more informed the community will be.
"It's incredible how much information is at the tip of our fingers," Brooks said.