I’m just returning from the Institute for Museum and Library Service’s WebWise conference in Miami, where I spent the last two days talking about Omeka with librarians, museum professionals and digital humanists who are on the cutting edge of using Web 2.0 technologies to share their materials with the public. The theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of Community” and there were a number of exciting talks and presentations that pointed to the future of digital outreach for cultural institutions. I got to speak with many, many committed people who were passionate about sharing their work and their collections. These conversations convinced me that Omeka will be an important tool in this digital work.
First, these users are looking for flexibility both in design and operation. Omeka has the capacity to produce unique looking sites that mesh with an institution’s existing digital presence. Also, Omeka’s archival system uses core metadata and item types, which makes it easily adaptable to the very different and specific needs of institutions from those that deal with great works of art to those that deal with ancient artifacts.
Second, cultural institutions have fascinating holdings, and their curators, archivists, librarians and resident scholars have a world of knowledge about those holdings that they need to communicate to the public. Omeka can facilitate this communication. Omeka was popular with the crowd at WebWise because it allows content experts to publish exhibits that combine rich layers of narrative interpretation with items that are accompanied by full metadata records.
Third, users need something inexpensive and easy to use, preferably open source. For cultural institutions with limited resources and budgets, this is one of Omeka’s real bonuses. Without making a huge investment in a thickly articulated content management system or a publishing mechanism that wraps content in Flash, institutions can use Omeka to increase their digital presence, quickly and easily, without hiring expensive designers or extra programming help. Additionally, Omeka exhibits will allow many of the important departments of museums and libraries to work together to produce narrative exhibits, with teaching components, and Web 2.0 features that encourage the public to return to sites again and again.
So, with those key points in mind, I’m happy to welcome all of our new WebWise friends who will be experimenting with Omeka as a web publication tool for their museum, library, or cultural institution. Please stay in touch and feel free to post to the forums as you use Omeka. We want to hear how things are going and to see the wonderful exhibits that you build.