Omeka for Instruction

omekalogoThe following post describes Omeka, a Web-based exhibition software application, and the how it was selected, installed on a local server, and is currently used at Johns Hopkins. Outside of Johns Hopkins these processes may serve as models. Alternatives to local hosting of Omeka are also outlined.

Omeka for Instruction

Years ago, our Dean, Winston Tabb, here in The Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University requested we perform a survey and evaluation of open source Web-based exhibition software, the kind of software that might be a useful adjunct to our brick-and-mortar exhibitions.  This genre of software was, at the time, in a nascent stage.  Nevertheless, our survey and evaluation included now-mature software applications such as: Collective AccessOmekaOpen Exhibits;  and Pachyderm.  Each package was downloaded, installed, configured, and evaluated with respect to ease of installation, overall functionality, and prospect of sustainability. In the end, Omeka was our exhibition software package of choice.

What is Omeka?

Omeka is a Web-based exhibition software package written by historians for historians.  A product of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Omeka was created so that those with exhibit-worthy content — most notably, historians — could click their way to a visually pleasing Web-based exhibition without the need to learn HTML, Javascript, or CSS coding.  Omeka is more than just a Webpage with some images and text, though.  It is a multi-user, Web-based tool that includes facility for user account management, for installing and configuring a host of freely-available plugins, for activating and altering themes, for adding and cataloging content items, and for taking those items and creating structured exhibitions with them.

Our Services

Shortly after settling on Omeka as our software package of choice, we decided to install it with two different uses in mind.  First, we would install a central Omeka instance for use by the Exhibitions Committee of The Sheridan Libraries and University Museums.  This instance would enable librarians and curators to use Omeka as either an online addition to a regular brick-and-mortar exhibition or as the venue for fully online exhibitions.  As of this writing, this instance of Omeka was used in fall 2015 to host an online exhibition of materials related to the John Barth Exhibition held at the George Peabody LibraryJohnBarthExhibition.  Also as of this writing, it is the intent of the Exhibitions Committee to likewise use Omeka to supplement a forthcoming exhibition on Edgar Allan Poe, again to be hosted at the Peabody Library.

The second use of Omeka would be in the classroom.  For this, we set up a separate server and began offering each instructor interested in using Omeka his or her very own Omeka instance on a per course section basis.  In this way, each section of each course using Omeka gets its own, dedicated instance, and students from each course section are sandboxed with their fellows, free and able to work together with this remarkable software package.

Typically the way this has worked is that a professor contacts technologist and librarian Mark Cyzyk in The Sheridan Libraries or staff in the Center for Educational Resources  to request the use of Omeka.  Cyzyk then sets up an instance, generates student accounts, and comes to class at least once during the semester to train the students.  He sometimes is accompanied by a subject librarian or curator who addresses subject-specific topics such as where to find appropriate images/video/audio for use in exhibits, copyright and fair use issues, proper citation practice, etc.

Courses Using Omeka

Over the past five years, the following courses have used Omeka for instruction here at Johns Hopkins:

Spring 2012.  “Literary Archive.” AS.389.359 (01)  Gabrielle Dean
Spring 2012.  “Seeing Baltimore History: Race & Community.” AS.362.306 (01) Moira Hinderer
Fall 2012.  “Modernity on Display: Technology and Ideology in the Era of World War II.” AS.140.320 (01) Robert Kargon
Spring 2013. “American Literature on Display.” AS.389.360 (01) Gabrielle Dean
Spring 2014.  “Gender in Latin American History.” AS.100.232 (01)  Norah Andrews
Spring 2014.  “Guillaume de Machaut: Exploring Medieval Authorship in the Digital Age.” AS.212.678 (01) Tamsyn Rose-Steel
Spring 2015.  “Modernism in Baltimore: A Literary Archive.” AS.389.359 (01) Gabrielle Dean
Spring 2015.  “History of Modern Medicine.” AS.140.106 (01) Jeremy Green
Spring 2016.  “Art and Science in the Middle Ages.” AS.010.403 (01) Chris Lakey
Spring 2016.  “#Digital Blackness.” AS.362.332 (01) Kim Gallon
Spring 2016.  “The Virtual Museum.” AS.389.302 (01) Jennifer Kingsley
Spring 2016.  “History of Public Health in East Asia.” AS.140.146 (01)  Marta Hanson

Alternatives for Using Omeka

If you are not at Johns Hopkins, but are interested in using Omeka, you have two choices:  First, you can get your local IT shop to install it.  It is a PHP application that runs on the Apache Web server with the MySQL database on the backend, and it is fairly easy and straightforward to install and configure.  Second, the Omeka community offers both paid and free hosting services via the omeka.net Website.  The free plan includes a single site, 500 MB of server space, 15 plugins, and 5 themes:  Plenty of functionality to get you started!

If you are at Johns Hopkins and are interested in using Omeka in one of your classes, please contact Mark Cyzyk, mcyzyk@jhu.edu, in The Sheridan Libraries.

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Mark Cyzyk, Scholarly Communication Architect
Sheridan Libraries and Museums

Image sources: Omeka Logo from http://omeka.org; Lost in the Funhouse image © Sheridan Libraries and Museums

 

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