Practicum: Omeka

Hey! For this week, I will be guiding the class through the publishing platform Omeka. In a nutshell, Omeka is an online platform that allows users to share digital collections and create object-based online exhibits. This is a great resource for students, teachers, archivists, and librarians. As seen in our weekly reading of “Omeka and Its Peers” by Tom Scheinfeldt, there isn’t anything on the market that can compare to Omeka’s usability or accessibility. As an example, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum uses Omeka to share their digitized collections with the public. I have been using Omeka since the spring of 2019 and it is a great way to learn website design, collection management, and curatorial practice.

Website design is very complex so I am going to do my best to briefly walk you through the different elements of Omeka. I will be using images from Miriam Posner’s “Up and Running with Omeka.net” blog post alongside some images of the Clinton Digital Library as examples.

Once you have created a site, there are two important elements you must understand. The first being the public view of the website and the second is the backend of the website.

Public view
Public View Homepage

The public view is what visitors will see when visiting your site. You have the ability to customize this view as you see fit. This includes the homepage and the different exhibits you may add over time.

Clinton Digital Library Homepage

The backend of the site is where the magic happens. This is where the owner of the site can edit and change how the site looks. The public does not have access to this portion. The owner of the site can add in items (videos, images, recordings) create collections of items, and install plugins (creative add-ons like an exhibit builder).

Plugins page
Plugins
Add an item
Adding Items
Add a Collection
Adding Collections

When you add in items and collections, you will be greeted with a screen that allows you to describe your item or collection. This is one of the biggest reasons why it is so popularly used by professionals. For each item and collection, you can extensively provide the metadata that is appropriate.

Add collection metadata
Adding Collection Metadata

These are the key aspects of Omeka. Like any digital tool, it takes some trial and error to understand the limits and possibilities of the site. At its core, Omeka is designed to showcase digital collections and build exhibits around those collections. The possibilities are truly limitless. The Clinton Presidential Library and Museum uses Omeka to make its digitized collections accessible. If they wanted, a family could use Omeka as a digital photo album to share family photos. I have used Omeka to curate an online exhibition on the video game Assassins Creed Odyssey and included video recordings from my Xbox. Hopefully, this has been a useful introduction to Omeka and I would be happy to answer any questions in the comments below or in class this week!

2 Replies to “Practicum: Omeka”

  1. Hello Joshua!

    First, I really liked your post about Omeka. I thought that it was an excellent overview of the sites capabilities that could help individuals like ourselves as we go into the field. One thing that I like is that it is clearly marketed as a site for object and collections and that this helps professionals to decide right off the bat if the site is right for them. I like that as far as can be seen the site seems to be user friendly and easy to create content on. I like how you showed the ways that museums currently use Omeka as this adds layers of understanding for people like myself who have never heard of this site.

    In addition, I like how you talked about the front and back end of the site. It is important for us as historians to understand that different areas work in unique ways. The public won’t always see what we are doing, but is important that both ends are done to the best of our abilities as designers.

    One question that I have to continue discussion is what specific problems might we run into as historians designing an exhibit or collection on the site? Another question is are there certain collections or exhibits that work better on the site than others?

  2. Hi, Joshua! Thank you so much for this guide. I have never heard of Omeka until this class, and I think it is truly fascinating and a great tool. I love how you pointed out that this platform does not just have to be for historians or museum curators. It can be used by anyone, including simple families who just want to show off some cute family pictures! However, after reading Schienfeldt’s reading, I have to agree with their statement that this platform is “less effective when it comes to exhibiting collections or providing the rich visual and interpretive context today’s web users expect.” When I visited the Clinton website, I was super underwhelmed by its appearance. Honestly, the simple, bland structure of it kind of ruined the experience for me. It looked clunky and plain, and I wanted to exit out immediately!

    Just a question that popped into my head during this whole debacle: do you think simplicity and accessibility of the website is more important than its “rich visual and interpretive context”?

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