Today my task was to install and begin to understand how to use Omeka Classic, a tool for creating digital collections and exhibitions. I was concerned about usability (would students be able to learn to use this quickly and efficiently?) and whether or not Omeka’s exhibit feature could easily display the information suited to medieval materials.
When you first decide to work with Omeka you are presented with a few different options. First, you are presented with two different versions of Omeka: Classic and S. The site describes Omeka S as “a shareable resource pool” that can be used by institution that want to manage their content across multiple sites. Since our task in the Medieval Book is to create a stand-alone digital catalogue project, I decided to use Omeka Classic.
The next question is Omeka.org or Omeka.net? If you already have the available server space, Omeka.org is there to download for free and to start working with right away. If you’re not ready to jump in yet, (like I wasn’t, preferring to first see what potential this platform had) I would recommend the free trial 1-site option despite its limitations: you only have access to 500 MB of storage space and just a few choices of plugins.
Populating the Database
The first thing that is necessary to do is create your collections and begin to add items to them. To keep it simple I created two collections: Carleton University Archives and Research Collection and Carleton University Art Gallery Collection. To make sure I did not go over my space allocation I could not add all the items, but added two items to each collection for testing.
The Exhibition Plugin
Once my database had some items in its collections, it was time to figure out how to display my artifacts. The exhibition feature of Omeka is a plugin that must be installed in order to use. After entering some information on the Exhibit (Title, slug, credits, description) and selecting your Theme (I stuck with the default, Berlin) you’re ready to start creating Exhibit pages. This part was straight-forward. You simply click “Add Page” and it will bring you to a new page where you input the title and slug and get started on the content. Since I already uploaded my files, this part was simple.
You begin by selecting how you want your content to be displayed. Only two give you the option to display both text and images (File with Text and Gallery). I tried one of each to test out the differences. In the end, they essentially give you nearly the same result with the exception of how the images are displayed. In File with Text, the images are displayed quite large whereas Gallery displays them as thumbnails. I plan to explore the plugins that are available to see if there are more ways to display the information that are more intuitive to manuscripts.
My thoughts on Omeka so far
In Omeka I see a large capacity for growth. Although the trial website is limited, it allows you to create a database and exhibit in a fairly intuitive way. Anything that is not intuitive is well documented either by the creators of Omeka or through the user community. For the display of medieval materials however, I see several problems. For one, the Dublin Core metadata element set is very general. Few of the elements are important data for medieval content, and there are many key data elements for medieval content (location, script, and shelfmark, etc) that are absent. In an effort to fix this issue I explored plugins that might expand this restrictive element set. I found LC Suggestion plugin that expands on the default element set, but does not tailor well to medieval content.
There is still so much to learn about Omeka and loads of plugins and features to explore. My next task will be to find online exhibitions that used Omeka (and others that did not) that host medieval artifacts and understand what can be done to accomplish our exhibition.
See what I accomplished with the Omeka free-trial here.