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.
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.