Digitization has become a necessity in today’s Information Age, an issue widely recognized within the museum community. Many institutions are digitizing their collections to make them more accessible to the public – but that’s just the first step. Another question remains: how can institutions exhibit these newly digitized collections, especially if they lack the resources and the knowledge to do so??
If this question applies to you, fret no more! Thanks to Omeka, an open source web publishing system, you can easily upload your digital collections and display them as an online exhibit. Developed by the Center for History and New Media in collaboration with George Mason University, Omeka provides institutions with a free, user-friendly way to curate their collections.
Users have the option of signing-up for a basic or upgraded plan, depending on how much storage space they will need (as well as how many different sites they plan to create). The basic plan is free and comes with eight downloadable plugins to help manage your site (most of which were created by the Center for History and New Media), as well as four different design themes. Users also have the option to add others as site administrators, supers, researchers or contributors.
Once an account is created, users can begin to upload the items in their collections. Items are organized and archived within the Dublin Core metadata element set, which (according to Wikipedia) is “a set of vocabulary terms which can be used to describe resources for the purposes of discovery.” Basically, Dublin Core allows users to describe the item (video, document, image, etc) and tag it for future searches. Items can then be organized within their respective collection type.
Once items are uploaded and organized, they can be viewed on the public site (to be named by the curator). Here you can see how the website is formatted, view how the theme looks, as well as browse and search for items and collections. One limitation of the basic plan is that it is difficult to format the public site as you like. The themes seem fairly, well, basic, and there isn’t much room for change. Even still, everything is laid out nicely and easy to use.
Last summer I interned with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) within their Museum on Main Street (MoMS) division. MoMS was in the process of creating a new website called Stories from Main Street that would allow the public to upload their own stories (video or text) about a certain topic centering on whatever exhibition was being developed at the time (for instance, I worked on the exhibition “The Way We Worked,” so people could upload stories about labor and their communities). Stories from Main Street was created using Omeka, is extremely user-friendly and looks great. I’m not sure if MoMS used an upgraded plan, but Omeka was a perfect solution for a unit of the Smithsonian that did not have the money nor the staff to develop a high-end website. Omeka.org, Omeka’s formal site, also showcases other Omeka-powered websites such as Lincoln at 200, which we looked at last week.
All in all, Omeka is a fantastic way to create online exhibits. For people like me who are not necessarily tech savvy, you should definitely keep Omeka in the back of your mind if ever working on a web development project. After all, it’s FREE!