The following transcript and slides were part of a workshop in the New Student Orientation: The Penn Libraries Digital Showcase Back to School Workshops series in August 2020. You can view the video here (forthcoming).
Hi everyone! Thank you so much for taking time out of your Thursday to join me for Omeka Orientation.
This is part of the New Student Orientation: The Penn Libraries Digital Showcase, a week of online programming to help you get your year started right! Tune in to a Q&A panel for insider tips and tricks about navigating the libraries; get a virtual introduction to the librarians who can help you find the tools and resources you need; and sign up for a back-to-school workshop to pick up new skills. You can view all the Back to School Workshops in the corresponding LibGuide, and all of these sessions are being recorded for future use.
Some background on me: I am the Judaica Digital Humanities Coordinator in the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship here in the libraries, which means I work between Special Collections and the Center on projects related to Jewish history and culture. I also assist students, instructors, and staff with using Wordpress and Omeka, which are web publishing platforms. During my time at Penn, I have built two Omeka sites and hosted several others, including Digital Second Edition of Judaica Americana, Penn Holy Land Digitized Image Collections.
Today, we’ll be using some of those websites I’ve assisted as well as others here at Penn throughout the workshop as an example of what we can do with Omeka.
So, first up - what is Omeka?
Omeka is a Swahili word meaning “to display or layout wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack.” The team behind Omeka, which includes the Corporation for Digital Scholarship, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and George Mason University, chose this name because they believed it signified what their project would do. Omeka helps its users display digital content and unpack stories through publishing collections and exhibits for online communities. Since its launch in February 2008, Omeka has established itself as a leading open source web publishing platform for digital collections. It has been downloaded over 150,000 times, and supported thousands of websites developed by galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and scholars.
What are some of the key features of Omeka?
- Omeka is free and open-source. That means Omeka can be downloaded and the software used for free by anyone and for any purpose.
- Omeka is easy to use. They boast about a five-minute setup process, and it really is that simple. It’s designed with non-IT specialists in mind, allowing scholars like yourself to focus on the content and interpretation of collections rather than programming.
- Omeka emphasizes metadata. For context, metadata is data that describes other data, as in its origin, structure, or characteristics. When you add an item to Omeka, you may include basic information - a Title, a Description, a Source, a Date, etc. And then you can use those items to build your collections and exhibits. We’ll discuss that a little later on.
- Omeka has lots of plugins, which are applications that help extend the functionality of your site. Some examples include bulk importing items to your website, uploading files from Dropbox or similar spaces, adding pages to your site, embedding PDF documents, and more.
When should you use Omeka over other web publishing platforms?
- When your goal is cataloging and archiving. You have items which contain information or files related to a broader collection.
- When you have a lot of media. If your project involves images, videos, websites, and texts that you want to link to or include, and you want to display detailed information about an item, Omeka is designed for that purpose.
- When you want to include community-sourced content. Plugins like Scripto and Contribution allow for community contributions to items.
- When you want to emphasize storytelling. Omeka is built around the concept of creating online collections of digitized materials and curating them for the web. It offers a simple way to organize your collection into an attractive and interactive narrative.
So what can you do with Omeka?
Create a digital archive like Penn Libraries Holy Land Digital Image Collections: The site hosts over 18,000 images about the Holy Land. Laura Newman Eckstein, who was a staff member at Penn and is currently a graduate student, worked on building this archive to complement an exhibit here at the libraries.
Build a digital exhibit like Laboring Over History: This site was built by a student at Northeastern University for her senior thesis. In this exhibit visitors take a close look at the ways that women have fought together to achieve equality in the workplace, focusing on Boston but including other monumental strikes and events.
Collaborate to tell a story like Digital Exploration of the Ancient City of Ur: This site was created as part of the “Digital Exploration of The Past: Archives, Databases, Maps, and Museums” course here at Penn in Fall 2018. NELC 320. Students worked to digitize a selection of excavation field notes, transcribing their content and mapping various plans of the site.
Create a mapped narrative like Paris sous l’Occupation: Similarly, a French history and culture course explored Paris during World War II by mapping places, memories, and oral histories. Their maps weave together texts, videos, and biographical data to explore the dark history of occupation through spatial dimensions.
Crowdsource your research like Transform/Transcribe MHC: The Archives and Special Collections staff at Mount Holyoke College use Omeka to transcribe historic documents and collection records alongside members in order to facilitate research and excite learning in everyone. They use a plugin called Scripto to allow volunteers to transcribe these documents and help make Mount Holyoke’s collections in the history of women in higher education more accessible to anyone.
Create a Mobile Tour like DC Historic Sites: DC Historic Sites uses Curatescape, a set of tools and plugins for Omeka, to curate tours of historic sites in the District of Columbia. Visitors can browse tours or sites to gain new insight about neighborhood histories.
The following slides come from my colleague Sasha Renninger in SAS Computing - I’ve changed them significantly but I do want to highlight her work.
Let’s say you wanted to build an Omeka exhibit about Art at the University of Pennsylvania, featuring outdoor art in walking distance of the library. You could feature the LOVE sculpture, the Split Button, and Benjamin Franklin. (Fun fact: this is an actual Omeka site!)
Each of these would be considered an “item” in Omeka, to which you could attach respective files. For LOVE, you might attach image files - one from winter and one from spring. For Split Button, you might have an image and then a text file about the history of the sculpture. And for Benjamin Franklin, you might have an image, a PDF about Franklin and the university, and maybe even an audio file talking about the sculpture on a walking tour.
When you add an item to Omeka, you can also add metadata - all this descriptive information about your item. Omeka uses a metadata set called “Dublin Core” to provide basic information about your item, such as
- Coverage, etc.
You can also give specific Item Type Metadata for an image, and possibly create your own as a way to describe your item.
And then you can build your exhibit, combining your items and contextualizing them together. In this case, the author talks about the other Benjamin Franklin artwork on campus.
I hope this has you excited about the possibilities of using Omeka for your projects! Penn Libraries supports Omeka as a digital platform, and the first place to look for more information is the Omeka LibGuide at guides.library.upenn.edu/omeka. It contains some of the projects I mentioned today, as well as additional resources for learning more. And you can always reach out to the Omeka support team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.