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A Brief Introduction to Omeka

omekaI’ve long held that Omeka is (or soon will be) one of the killer apps of academia. Now, given that I felt similarly as strong about Webvan and Pets.com, perhaps the good folks at CHNM would prefer I kept my opinions to myself on this matter. But the combination of attention to audience, growth of developer community, and commitment to the open-source ethos make the entire Omeka project something to watch—and, if applicable to your work, something to use.

In the first of a two-part Omeka fest here at ProfHacker, I’m just going to give a brief overview and some pointers to additional materials ahead of Jeffrey McClurken’s lengthy and rich post later today on teaching with Omeka.

What is It?

The oft-bandied-about description of Omeka is “WordPress for museums” despite the fact that Omeka isn’t WordPress and many more institutions (and individuals) than museums can use it. But the analogy works here because WordPress is recognized as an easy-to-use, flexible, customizable web publishing platform—all goals of Omeka as well.

Lincoln at 200But unlike the relatively simplistic creation, storage, and display of blog content (as in WordPress), Omeka was created for the storage and display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions. Common throughout the Omeka materials are the concepts of extending, uncovering, and complementing physical collections; Omeka allows scholars and professionals the ability to transcend issues of access and provide dynamic content outside static walls. Take, for example, the Lincoln at 200 project, a collaborative effort between the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, the Chicago History Museum, and the Newberry Library. This Omeka-based project made available over 250 items—and extensive narratives around them—to visitors well outside the greater Chicago area.

Who Can Use It?

As I mentioned above, Omeka is for more than museums; if you are a scholar, museum professional, librarian, archivist, educator, or even an unaffiliated individual who wants to share collections and exhibits with a wide range of users, Omeka could work for you. The Omeka Showcase highlights many different types of projects, and the project team has taken great care to lead users down common paths based on general interests.

For example, educators might use Omeka “to build inquiry-based tasks for students, to create lesson plans with accompanying primary sources, or build learning modules with your team.” To extend the base package, suggestions include the Exhibit Builder plugin, Intense Debate comments plugin, the Image Annotation plugin, and more.

Between the “how might you use Omeka” page and the Omeka Showcase, there are plenty of examples of Omeka use across disciplines, but feel free to discuss ideas and ask questions in the comment section of this post.

How Does it Work?

The Omeka user and administrator documentation is quite rich, so much so that there’s little need for me to repeat it here. However, I would like to point out the following:

To get a much better grasp on Omeka goodness, I recommend taking four minutes to view the following:

What Is Omeka from Omeka on Vimeo.

Next Steps

If you are still intrigued by the possibilities for Omeka with regard to your own scholarly or pedagogical work, why not take it for a test drive in a safe environment? These tests will give you the opportunity to kick a few tires and see if the procedures and thought processes that go into building an Omeka site are something of interest to you. If you like it, peruse the documentation for installation methods, or discuss possibilities in the forums.

To be sure, Omeka isn’t for everyone; as you’ll see in Jeff’s post, the first question when evaluating Omeka for use with your project is “are you bringing a sledgehammer when a regular hammer will do?” But if the answer to your question is “why yes, I do need a big shiny sledgehammer to solve this particularly interesting scholarly problem,” then you’re well on your way to increasing access to artifacts and providing a platform for additional study by scholars worldwide.

Oh, and the real killer app? Omeka.net. The future is bright.

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