Is Your Library In?

In my previous post, I discussed learning XSLT for my current Indiana University Digital Library Program internship. Along the way, I explained a little about TEI/XML, as well. Thinking about these tools led me to consider all of the different markup and programming languages, and tools that go into building a digital library. While my Guide to Digital Library Tools is kept for another day, I wanted to explore one platform in particular. Omeka.

IU hosts a fantastic series called Digital Library Brown Bags on Wednesdays throughout the school year. I’ve attended many and see an Omeka usage pattern emerging. The most recent Brown Bag was titled Designing the Digital Scholarly Commons: “In Mrs. Goldberg’s Kitchen: Jewish Life in Interwar Lodz” given by Halina Goldberg, Associate Professor of Music at the Jacobs School of Music, and Adam Hochstetter, Web Developer for the Jacobs School of Music.

After seeing many projects utilizing Omeka and creating a few of my own, I was astounded by the extensiveness and detail of this particular project including panorama photograph tours and pop-up information (sign up for notification when the exhibit goes live here). Omeka’s uses are twofold: digital storage for digitized items and a platform to exhibit those items. There are two versions, Omeka.net, though which users can host projects for free or a small fee, and Omeka.org, hearty, more expensive and hosted by an individual person or organization.

To store items, Omeka utilizes the Dublin Core Metadata initiative metadata scheme. Once a user uploads an item (read: picture of an item) he or she fills out a form asking about different parts of the metadata, such as creator, date, description, publisher, language, etc. The item list is always available to browse.

The real magic happens through an exhibit. Like physical exhibits in a rare book library, museum or gallery, the Omeka exhibitor brings together items in relation to a theme. In the example above, the theme was the items found in “Mrs. Goldberg’s Kitchen” and their cultural and historical significance. Omeka provides nearly seamless integration of items in exhibits, hence the magic. Programmers can also do back-end code and template alterations, similar to WordPress.

When beginning to use Omeka, there is a small learning curve and a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) feel. I’m curious if this is the reason many libraries choose to implement Omeka projects. Throughout the Brown Bag series and presentations featuring Omeka, I’ve noticed that ¾ of the time is spent discussing the project, and the rest is spent discussing problems or limitations with Omeka. There is always a question along the lines of “so, once you store all of this information in Omeka, can you integrate it with other platforms? Can you export it out?”

As digital librarians find ways to link and standardize digital projects across the web, what will this mean for data “trapped” within Omeka? When I think about this question something like this pops into my mind:

Image retrieved from kids.baristanet.com.

Image retrieved from kids.baristanet.com.

But with Omeka so widely used and only increasing in popularity for library and digital humanities projects, is the orange person an Omeka project with linked projects in blue, or the opposite?

I would love to hear if your library is “in” with Omeka or “in” with other digital exhibits and libraries! Feel free to comment with your successes, limitations, questions, and remarks!

One thought on “Is Your Library In?

  1. We are using Omeka in two ways.

    First, as a library front end for local history collections in our Archives and Special Collections, such as this collection from Boston’s Latino community:
    http://archives.neu.edu/latinohistory/

    And this one, which is a crowd-sourced collection of digital artifacts about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing
    http://marathon.neu.edu/about

    Second, as a tool for students at Northeastern to build exhibit front-ends from our collections:
    http://marathon.neu.edu/student-exhibits

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