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Omeka: Overview

A Guide to Omeka, a web publishing platform for web content management and exhibits.

Resources for Using Omeka

Learn more

The choice of whether to use Omeka can be complex and depends on your course goals, learning objectives, and other factors.  To learn more about Omeka email us or contact a librarian with whom you already have a relationship.

What is Omeka?

Omeka is a tool for organizing and displaying digital images, text, and other multi-media formats in one site. Omeka was developed by the Roy Rozenweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  There are several versions of Omeka that are freely available to Penn affiliates, but this guide focuses on the third of the below options, Omeka Platinum.

Versions of Omeka:

  • Server-based, locally-hosted Omeka.org.  Anyone with access to a server can set up a full local installation of Omeka by downloading the software. This version is best for users who are comfortable with some server-side technology and requiring some specialized customization. The library will support some hosting and customization for Omeka installations on a pilot basis, after evaluating the project. Please contact laallen@upenn.edu for more information on this option.
  • Omeka platinum.  A more elaborate version of Omeka.net that is available to members of the Penn Community through the Library, and that is supported by the Library in certain important respects.
  • Basic Omeka.net .  Using this free version of Omeka one can build an Omeka website hosted on the Omeka.net servers. It has less functionality than the Omeka platinum, but it is perfect for experimenting, learning about Omeka, and creating quick and dirty sites that aren't meant for a wide audience.

Examples of sites that have been created using Omeka can be viewed in the Omeka showcase.

Why Omeka?

Omeka is one type of web content management system.  Other systems that perform similar functions include: WordPress, Drupal and Squarespace.  What makes Omeka the right choice for any particular project?  As opposed to other, more generic systems, Omeka is designed for cultural institutions to display and document digital objects.  As such, it has a relatively low learning curve and has much of the resources needed for the specific purpose of scholarly presentations built directly into its workflow.  For instance:

  • Items imported into Omeka are by default presented with an unqualified set of Dublin Core metadata fields.  In effect, every item displayed in Omeka is also cataloged in a language that is recognized internationally and across a wide range of standards.
  • Because items are fully cataloged and are OAI compatible, they can be entered into local catalogs or even into national projects like the Digital Public Library of America.
  • There are plugins that are designed specifically for academic funcations such as geocoding, filename hierarchies

Accompanying these advantages of Omeka are a series of disadvantages:

  • Because Omeka has a specific function and a limited number of extentions, it can be aesthetically underwhelming unless coding is done on the backend.
  • As opposed to WordPress with its thousands of themes, Omeka only has a handful, and it can be difficult to get the look and feel one desires.
  • The functions of Omeka can in many cases be replicated more easily and attractively in other platforms.

The decision to use Omeka for teaching, research or exhibiting largely depends on the users' goals.  Omeka uniquely provides easy access to a series of functions relating directly to scholarly exhibiting and cataloging.  Omeka is a good choice for projects with this object firmly in view.  Projects that place a priority on aesthetics or have no reason to catalog material or use common standards might do better to use a different system.

Subject Guide

Laurie Allen
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Van Pelt Library 238.2
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