Working From Home With the Wyoming State Archives-Project Spotlights: State Imaging Center

By: Jessica Cosgrove

In celebration of Electronic Records Day, here is a glimpse behind the scenes at some of the work that State Archives’ Imaging Center staff do to make archival records accessible to you.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the world has readjusted to a new normal while social distancing. The Wyoming State Archive staff was facing the task of working from home while most of our resources were at the office. To work from home successfully, many of our team needed to learn new skills. We rose to the challenge of working from home by doing projects that will provide better ease of access to our records for the general public, researchers, and State Agencies.

One such project is putting our paper finding aids up online so people can see more of what we have to offer in the State Archives. Before we had the benefit of posting finding aids online, people needed to come into the State Archives to view the collection finding aid. What is a finding aid you ask? Well, it gives a researcher a brief overview of the history of the collection as well as provides folder lists of what is found in the collection. A finding aid is essentially an index to the collection. 

The following link is an example of one of the Wyoming State Archive finding aids online now: https://rmoa.unm.edu/docviewer.php?docId=wy-arh95-19.xml  As you can see, it describes the papers of Frances “Franky” McQuigg Stewart.  She happens to be the niece of Esther Hobart Morris, who played a pivotal role in the history or women’s suffrage in Wyoming.  Morris’ letters to her niece are very helpful in understanding how women began participating in electoral politics here, and they’re actually linked right to the finding aid, too!

Esther Hobart Morris was the first woman in the nation to serve as Justice of the Peace. She served in South Pass City, Wyoming in 1870.

XML coding is the tool we use to transform our paper finding aids into documents a computer can read. The computer reads the language and then portrays the finding aid in a way that humans can read it. The process isn’t as simple as copying and pasting a paper finding aid to the internet.

Here’s an example of XML or what the computer sees and reads:

The computer turns the above XML language into this.

State Imaging Center scanning staff focused on this project. The SIC staff complete scanning projects for State Agency personnel who need their paper records digitized. Before going home the SIC staff were busy learning XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML coding was a new skill most of the SIC staff needed to learn before the mid-March work from home order. Suzi Taylor, our Photo Archivist and resident XML expert, and Cindy Brown, our Digital Archivist, taught the SIC staff coding in just five two hour learning sessions.

SIC staffer Erica Bennett said, “I’ve enjoyed encoding finding aids in XML to make them accessible online. I like the challenge of learning a new skill and being able to see the results of my work.” Learning coding can be challenging at first, but Bennett learned it well and became the best XML coder of the SIC group. She said, “Working on this project has helped me realize I can learn anything if I set my mind to it.”

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As of the date of this publication, the SIC has:

  • Encoded 298 finding aids
  • Published 77 new finding aids to Rocky Mountain Online Archives (the database where our online finding aids are). Go to https://rmoa.unm.edu/index.php to explore the Wyoming State Archive online finding aids.

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