“Omeka” is a Swahili word meaning to display or layout wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack. The team chose this name, because it signifies the practices that Omeka helps its users to do with digital content and through building digital projects for online communities.
When the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media first applied to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for funding to support the development of Omeka Classic in 2007, few options existed for museums, libraries, and archives wishing to publish collections and narrative exhibits to the web as easily as one could launch a blog. Most museums had websites, but institutions of all sizes lacked in-depth content. Even award-winning narrative-intensive museums exhibitions came packaged in multi-media wrappers making the content non-508 compliant, and impossible to share, bookmark, or Google. We believed that publishing accessible collections and exhibitions that utilize standards-based metadata could be accomplished by building a free, open-source platform that, like blogging software, offered an easy-to-use administrative interface, provided syndication for sharing content, and extended the core function of publishing content with a flexible plugin architecture and rich design theme API. Since its first release in February 2008, Omeka Classic has established itself as a leading open source web publishing platform for digital collections. Subsequently, the software has been downloaded over 500,000 times, and is the content management system for thousands of websites developed by libraries, archives, museums, scholars, and enthusiast users.
While the core Omeka Classsic software provides a free and open source answer to the need for a web publishing platform that centers the importance of standards-based metadata and allows content experts to showcase their unique knowledge about their collections, the Omeka Team immediately set about the task of extending the functionality of that core through a range of addons. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation funded the earliest versions of the Geolocation and Contributions plugins for use with the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. Similarly, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation funded the earliest integration of metadata vocabularies used for describing visual resources as well as means for harvesting materials from Omeka sites. Over the years, a wide community of external developers have joined the Omeka Team in creating and maintaining nearly 100 plugins for Omeka Classic.
In 2010, the Library of Congress recognized the centrality of Omeka Classic as an open source software for the library community by funding two years in support of ongoing work on the core software and in strengthening the developer community. The partnership between RRCHNM and the University of Virginia Libraries’ Scholar Lab supported the building and testing of the Neatline suite of plugins for creating geospatial scholarship, and was held up as a shining example of cross-institutional developer collaboration. Through that partnership, the Omeka Team improved developer and designer documentation and built easier ways for community members to share plugins and themes they developed for their own projects with the entire Omeka user base.
Understanding that not every organization or individual has the ability or resources to download and run Omeka Classic on their own server, the Omeka Team began to offer a hosted solution called Omeka.net in 2010. Since launching, Omeka.net has hosted nearly 83K users and over 50K sites, and continues to grow. In addition to providing a cost-effective solution for Omeka users who could not host their own installations, the Omeka.net service was part and parcel of a larger sustainability plan for the project. The reasonable fees that the Omeka team charges users, with the support of the fiscal infrastructure and stewardship provided by Digital Scholar, immediately contributed to supporting the salaries of the staff who developed and maintained the software at RRCHNM.
Almost immediately, Omeka Classic attracted a global user-base, which made attention to internationalization important. Beginning in 2012, the Omeka Team made the Omeka Classic core and its plugins translatable and invited users to contribute their translations on Transifex, and made those available for any Omeka administrator to select as their base language. Omeka Classic is available in dozens of languages, and the community regularly contributes new languages to our offerings.
Though Omeka Classic, and its hosted version Omeka.net, quickly established themselves as excellent choices for individual projects, the Omeka Team regularly heard requests for a version of the software that had the capacity to support the needs of larger organization and to integrate more fully into the digital scholarly communications ecosystem. As a result, in October 2012, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Omeka Team began work on a new web-publishing platform to satisfy the needs of larger institutional users.
Omeka S is the fruit of those efforts: a web publishing platform that offers institutions a single point of administration for installation, software upgrades, and the extension of functionality and look and feel for all of the sites developed in the installation. Together these features offer Omeka S administrators a critical balance of flexibility and control over their networks. Omeka S uses JSON-LD as its native data format, which makes it possible to enmesh Omeka S in the Linked Open Data world. Every Omeka S Resource (item, item set, media) has a URI, and the core software includes Resource Description Framework (RDF) vocabularies, which maximizes its data interoperability with other data publishers. Users can extend that capacity by importing any LOD vocabulary of their choice and developing a data model that matches the needs of their content. In addition to its core linked data facilities, many of the most popular plugins for Omeka Classic have been updated for Omeka S with funding from the Mellon Foundation, IMLS, and the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities. Furthermore, Omeka S has a range of importers and connectors that assure that it can be situated within the ecosystem of scholarly communications and preservation repositories. Finally, Omeka S theme and module development extends beyond the pattern set by Omeka Classic to leverage a world of descriptive standards, data types, and flexible new design blocks.
The emergence of Omeka S did not signal the sunsetting of Omeka Classic. Rather, development on Omeka Classic continues, with ongoing development to enhance functionality and user experience, and with an eye to serving different audiences. For example,
- An IMLS Museums National Leadership Grant funded a partnership with Ideum and the University of Connecticut to connect Omeka Classic’s online collections with museum gallery touch tables and tablet installations as Omeka Everywhere.
- The Getty Foundation funded design and development work to create additional Omeka Classic themes and plugins especially for art historians.
- An IMLS Libraries National Leadership Grant funded the research and development of Omeka Classic plugins that enable close reading of items through text and image annotation, as well as distant reading of items in a large Omeka collection through text analysis plugins. This cutting edge work was tested on the corpus of user-generated contributions found in the September 11 Digital Archive, which migrated to Omeka Classic in 2011.
Since 2016, the Omeka project has been a fully independent entity, under the fiscal stewardship of Digital Scholar, a not for profit company dedicated to sustaining critical open-source infrastructure for the digital humanities. This financial independence means that the Omeka Team can dedicate its time and resources to maintaining and developing Omeka Classic, Omeka.net, and Omeka S, and working with the global community of developers and users who depend on the software to support their digital scholarly publishing and cultural heritage work.
Funding and Support
The Omeka Team is grateful to the following organizations for their generous funding and support at different stages of development: