Getting to knOmeka

Omeka is both a web publishing and digital asset management system created in 2006 by none other than the Roy Rozenwig Center for History and New Media. Although they say that no expertise is required, it seems to be designed for cultural institution-type folks because of its heavy emphasis on metadata and an assumed knowledge of item-record-collection-exhibit hierarchy.

Click here for a short video.

The system is tiered, so you can do a free basic plan, or commit to paying anywhere from $50- $1,000 annually. The benefits of paying include greater storage, plugins, pages for your site, and design themes. As you may remember, I’m using Omeka for my final digital project in this class, so I was a little nervous about my options with the free plan. It turns out I can do a surprising amount, BUT I have asked the museum I’m working with to sponsor me for the SILVER plan $99 (still very affordable!) because it includes the “contribution” plugin necessary for people to be able to submit their own oral histories, as well as 2 GBs of storage.

As an archivist with little to no web design experience, I found Omeka easy to use. You have a dashboard in the vein of WordPress through which you can create items, collections, simple web pages, and exhibits.









There are a list of plugins that you can configure or uninstall at will, and they have a lot of documentation, as well as a “Showcase”  of existing Omeka projects which I will demo in class.

Their metadata schema is based on Dublin Core, which is very easy to use and also has clear documentation.


When creating item records, you can upload multiple files in a variety of formats – audio, video, pdf, jpeg, etc. I loved this because it helped me create connections rather easily between the oral history recordings and transcripts, appearing right next to each other within the same item record.

I also love the settings that you can create for different types of users. In my case, I’ll be adding museum staff as “Supers,” which means that they have full permissions for everything on the site, but I’ll also be creating separate customized profiles for contributors (those that can upload but not publish), and for the public (such as hiding some of the metadata).

Improvements: Omeka is GREAT (thanks Roy!) I just met with museum staff yesterday to show what I’d created and discuss the possibilities for the site. The fact that it’s both approachable and professional made it an easy sell, and I am very comfortable committing to this platform for long-range projects.

That being said, I do have several suggestions for improved usability.
1. Uploaded files should appear at the top of the record. Metadata is scary to some users and if what they want is the item, then it should not require scrolling to get to.

2. Same point, but for the tags. The tags are useful, connecting a user to anything else within your site that has a similar tag, so why are they all the way at the bottom of the page?
3. I wish I had more control over the layout/design of the home page under the basic plan. You can upload a banner and header, and pick a pre-fab design, but my site is painfully plain without taking the time to teach myself PHP.


A specific example of this are the set icon images for item types. I would really like to have a picture of each storyteller to represent the item, but because they are oral histories, Omeka assigns them a rather unengaging gray-scale megaphone. I have seen other sites in the Showcase that use photos as item thumbnails, but I’ve found no way to do this (I’ve been asking myself this a lot- why do other people’s websites look so much better than mine?! grumblegrumble).

Small quibbles aside, Omeka is fantastic. With over 100 websites launched so far for organizations both big and small, Omeka is one of the most competitive choices on the market for an affordable content management system or exhibit space that balances professional best practices with affordability.


5 Replies to “Getting to knOmeka”

  1. I recognize this question makes me sound like a complete technophobe and/or a conspiracy theorist, but I have a question: who owns an Omeka-created project at the end? When you’ve finished your project – as much as anything that needs curation is ever ‘finished,’ do you own it? Does the museum you’ve partnered with and which has paid for the Silver usage own the work? Or does the organization that built Omeka own the content and you’re just making use of their platform? If Omeka dies overnight, how do you get your investment back, not in terms of money but the digital artifacts – I’m thinking of the oral histories loaded directly into the site. If your project gets huge traffic and you secure funding to migrate it to something administered elsewhere, are you allowed to? Or can Omeka retain it? Who has the intellectual property rights? And what are the long-term guarantees from the hosting organization?

  2. No! You don’t sound like a conspiracy theorists! Those are really smart questions to ask, and I believe I can answer them.

    So, all of the storytellers sign a use agreement to give their history TO the museum and whatever users may view or use their history from the website for a fair use purpose, so even though I’m facilitating the project, the oral histories will belong to Middlesex County Historical Society and Museum. Secondly, even though the system is managing our content, good digital curation practice says keep at least one extra copy somewhere else. So in case Omeka becomes obsolete, we will be keeping the high quality files on a hard drive, and the .mp3s, .mp4s will be stored in a shared google drive folder as well as burnt to CD. As long as it is scaleable, we will also be sending copies to each person we recorded (since many of the elderly in our county have low computer literacy skills).
    As far as Omeka’s rights, their terms of service are very clear (and awesome):
    “CDS does not claim ownership of any information or material you transmit, post or upload to or through the Services by any means (“Submissions”). You retain your rights to the Submissions you make through the Services. You are solely responsible for all Submissions and all other content transmitted, posted, or uploaded and activity that occurs under your account even when such content is transmitted, posted, or uploaded by others, for example through use of the Site’s community features. You have sole responsibility for the accuracy, quality, integrity, legality, reliability, appropriateness, and intellectual property ownership or right to transmit post or upload your Submissions and to grant the rights granted by you herein. By making a Submission, you automatically grant to CDS and its service providers, a royalty-free license and right to host such Submission in connection with the Services.”

    So basically they have a right to host our histories, but we continue to own them and the intellectual property rights to them (although our copyright policy is basically that anyone can use anything in the archive under fair use. If they are using it to make money, they have to contact us and we will decide on a case by case basis).

  3. Another potentially stupid question, but is there a means for you to download your metadata? I mean of course you’re going to have a backup somewhere of the interview and the transcript in case Omeka’s servers go poof, but if an organization is using Omeka as its CMS (would an organization do that or am I misunderstanding?), I would think they might want some sort of local backup of the catalog record.

    Also not sure how big your audio files or your organization’ project are, but 2 gigs isn’t tons and tons of space for oral histories. Probably plenty in terms of your class project though. How far that space goes depends on audio format, interview length, etc. so just something to be mindful of as you move forward.

    1. Another great question! I can show you tonight how i’m storing metadata!

      We only have 2 oral histories so far in this pilot period, so we figured 2 gigs was enough for now. With the different levels of storage, we agreed we would pay more for more gigs if the project grows in scope.

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