Here at the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC), we get a lot of questions from scholars who want to create online exhibits. Maybe they want to post a set of primary sources online, or maybe they want to talk about a collection of documents. Building a separate exhibit site for everyone would be a ton of work. Luckily, there's Omeka: an easy (and free) way for people to build their own online exhibits.
I asked DiSC's awesome undergrad employee, Graham Stewart, to poke around the Omeka system to learn how it works. I liked talking with him so much about it that I asked Graham to write a blog post to introduce others to Omeka, too. —Miriam Posner, Postdoctoral Fellow, Digital Scholarship Commons.
by Graham Stewart
I think the best way to describe Omeka is to compare it to one of those late night infomercials with those items that you’re not really quite sure would be useful. In this case, Omeka is one of those products you have to have.
Every trademark infomercial always starts with that scene shot in black and white that shows the helpless actor struggling with the old, traditional way. My Omeka infomercial would say, “Tired of that old, slow, and traditional way of making a digital archive? Well, now there’s Omeka!”
Omeka, a free and open source publishing system, has simplified the process of making an online digital archive. Regardless of your technological experience, Omeka makes it easy enough for anybody to display a collection of documents. Whether you want to create a collection of pictures from different family vacations or have an extensive collection of old maps or Civil War memorabilia, I would recommend Omeka for you. To sign up, just visit Omeka's website and click "Sign up!" It's free.
I think that Omeka is especially great for librarians. Many libraries have special collections, but since these collections are sometimes buried within the library, not everybody can see them. Digitizing these documents allows libraries to create online archives with websites such as Omeka. In fact, Omeka has an extensive list of sites like this.
Just like starting from scratch with anything, when I first started using Omeka, it took me a little while to familiarize myself. However, after a few minutes I found everything fit together nicely, mostly because of the simplicity of Omeka’s dashboard. When adding an item, you can specify what kind of document it is (i.e., document, photo, video, sound), add it to a collection, and add as many tags to describe it.
I found that the best and most comprehensive site with tutorials about everything on Omeka was their own Documentation page. This site is great at answering a lot of the questions you may have because of the extensive instructions it gives. Not only does it give the user step by step procedures on any given task, but it also includes a set of “Screencast Tutorials,” which are essentially video tutorials.
Another great part of Omeka is the exhibit feature. Exhibits make is much easier to organize items within them because it uses “Sections” and “Pages” within an exhibit. For example, you could have a “Photography” exhibit and inside it have “Vacation” and “Nature” sections and even further diversify using different pages. Using exhibits is different than just a list of items because it allows the user more freedom as far as the layout, and it also allows you to control the way items are organized.
“This can all be yours for the low, low price of $0. Visit http://www.omeka.net/ to get yours today” is how my Omeka infomercial would end. Omeka is a product that is simple enough that anybody with a desire to create an online digital archive should take the time to create an account and try it out.
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