Omeka, Good and Bad

The Center for History and New Media at George Mason University is well known for producing high quality on-line teaching modules, designing and developing applications, and bringing history to a worldwide audience. It should be no surprise that this group of web designers and developers would roll out Omeka, a platform for publishing on line collections and exhibits. In cooperation with the Minnesota Historical Society, Omeka allows scholars to publish essays, or collaborate with others in creating digital scholarship. Museums can build on line exhibits or educators can develop lesson plans with an archive of primary sources. Students, librarians, archivists – the list of possible users who can benefit from this service goes on.

Sign up is easy and free with 500 MBs of storage space. Omeka’s help page contains more than 20 links, from managing your web sites and accounts to social bookmarking, all with the goal of helping users through initial setup phases. Examples of this site’s capabilities are striking in content and amazing in scope. Unfortunately, the ease at which a magician can perform his magic is not always apparent. Directions on creating a simple page, web site or archive, or managing themes and plugins are vague. It took me several attempts to simply download photographs, and this after having to delete several previous pages and start over again. The same thing happened when trying to download brief snippets of two oral histories.

Site creators assume that all users possess certain skills. I have designed web sites which included audio commentary, video links, and source references for history classes. While I readily admit that I am not the sharpest knife in the fork drawer, Omeka proved more irritating than helpful.  Available help via email is slow at best and not something to depend on for immediate assistance. Don’t get me wrong. This is an excellent site for educators, archivists, librarians, and curators; its power to inform and educate the masses is unparalleled. Regrettably, for me, Omeka is not easy to navigate. Seriously, how about an “Omeka for Dummies,” for the casual user trying to document or create on this innovative site? The potential is endless – but not for everyone.

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