Building an Archive with Omeka S (Pt 1.)

Written By: Greg Lord

This toolkit offers an introduction to the Omeka S platform, allowing users to begin a simple archive including multimedia objects and basic Dublin Core metadata. Beginning from a basic Omeka S installation, it includes steps on managing accounts, creating and importing Omeka S objects, and creating pages and navigation that allow you to display your objects and metadata on a basic archive website.

1. Introduction

Omeka S is a “web publication system for universities, galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. It consists of a local network of independently curated exhibits sharing a collaboratively built pool of items, media, and their metadata” (Omeka S User Manual. https://omeka.org/s/docs/user-manual/) It offers an easy way for users to build archive projects by creating “objects” (including metadata), and “pages” which help you organize and display your archive’s objects for other people to view.

Omeka S is free and open source, meaning it is developed under a free public license and anyone can freely download, share, or contribute to the source code.

This toolkit will cover the basics of beginning to use Omeka S starting from a new installation on a web hosting platform. You can learn more about Omeka S from their user manual, available at: https://omeka.org/s/docs/user-manual/.

2. Terminology

To begin, there are a few basic terms we should know when working with Omeka S:

  • Digital Archive: An archive that contains digital and digitized content.
  • Item: An individual archive object (such as a document or photograph) with metadata that describes it.
  • Collection: A group of items arranged around a particular subject.
  • Exhibit: Pages created to showcase archival items or collections around subjects, to tell a story or narrative, or convey a specific message.
  • Metadata: Fields or types of data that provides information about or describes data, like the fields “author,” “title,” and “place of publication” for a book in a library catalog system.

3. Metadata Overview

Metadata can be described as “data about data.”

Where an object in an archive (for example, a photograph) is “data,” that photograph’s metadata describes things such as the time and location of the photograph, the name of the photographer, the location the photo can be accessed on the web, etc.

All archives/objects in Omeka S are stored as “Items” which contain metadata fields.

By default, metadata in Omeka S uses the DublinCore (https://www.dublincore.org/) metadata vocabulary, providing a common set of descriptive metadata fields that describe an object.

First created in 1995, Dublin Core is an organizational standard that includes elements to describe items in information systems and is used by many groups.  All archives use some form of a metadata standard, which is a shared system used by projects and institutions to structure and understand data.

Dublin Core fields can include: title, contributor, creator, date, subject, description, format, identifier, language, publisher, relation, rights, source, and type.

Below is a table of some common fields we will use in an example project. In general, we should include as many fields as we know, although Omeka S will always let us come back to revise or add additional metadata as we need.

  • Description: A brief description of the resource
  • Date: The date the resource was created
  • Creator: The person or organization that created the resource
  • Publisher: The person or organization who has published the resource
  • Identifier: This is information about where the resource came from, and whether there is an assigned identifier. Make sure to hyperlink!
  • Rights Holder: What is the name of the archive or library from which you got the resource?
  • Rights: Does the site list specific rights or restrictions?
  • Contributor: Who donated the item? Is there a credit line?
  • Place: Geographic coordinates of the places described by or related to this item

4. Omeka S Hosting and Installation

Omeka S is software that must be installed on a web server. Although this toolkit will not cover in detail the installation process for Omeka S, this software can be easily installed on commercial servers as long as they are running a standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) configuration.

We recommend working with a web host such as Reclaim Hosting, which makes Omeka S available as part of an automated install process called “Installatron” (available throug the cPanel server management platform) which configures a new Omeka S installation by providing a few basic setup parameters. (In general, this step should be performed by whoever administers your web server environment.)

Per the Omeka S user manual, Omeka S requires:

  • Linux
  • Apache (with AllowOverride set to “All” and mod_rewrite enabled)
  • MySQL, minimum version 5.7.9 (or MariaDB, minimum version 10.2.6)
  • PHP, minimum version 7.4, with PDOpdo_mysql, and xml extensions installed
  • Optional, to create thumbnails: ImageMagick version 6.7.5 or greater, the PHP imagick extension, or the PHP gd extension.

Once you have a new Omeka S installation configured and ready, you can begin with the next steps in this toolkit to get started setting up accounts, items, and pages.

5. User Accounts and Access

Once you have Omeka S installed and ready, you can access the administrative tools by adding “/login” to the end of your Omeka S site’s URL. (For example, if your Omeka S site is installed at www.example.com, your login URL would be: www.example.com/login)

Once you are logged in, you will see the main “Admin Dashboard” for your site. This gives an overview of the Sites, Item Sets, Vocabularies, Resource Templates, Users, and Assets related to your Omeka S environment.

To get started, you can first administer or add Users to your Omeka S site via the “Users” menu item on the left side menu of the dashboard. NoteThe Omeka S dashboard may appear different to different users, based on their user permissions.

Once you have clicked on the “Users” menu link, you will see the Users page, where you will be able to see and edit your own user account. When you hover your cursor over the account you want to access, you will see the Edit button (pencil icon) which you can click to edit your own account.

From the Edit screen, you can then change things including your password, via the options tabs along the top of this menu.

If you are the administrator of this Omeka S site, you can also use the Users menu to create new accounts for your users, via the “Add New User” option in the upper right. By setting up a new account, you can then invite that user to login via these same instructions above, and they can set up their own preferred passwords to begin accessing the site.

 

6. Items and Metadata

The most fundamental part of working with Omeka S deals with the creation of Items, which are any of the “objects” in your collection. These could range from things like documents, photographs, video or audio, etc.

As we create this item, we will also provide both the metadata (the data about this item), and the media file (the digital image of this art piece) that Omeka S will use to display the item on the website.

To create the item, we will first click on the Items menu on the left menu of the Omeka S Admin Dashboard. This will open the Items screen, which lists all of the Items that you can access in this Omeka S environment. (In our example below, this will appear empty since this is our first item.)

From here, the “New Item” screen will let you begin to add the details of this item. To begin, we will pick a “Resource template,” which is a set of fields that we will use to keep consistent metadata across our collection. By default, Omeka S includes one Resource Template: “Base Resource” which we can select from the “Select a template” dropdown menu.

By selecting the Base Resource template, a number of new fields will appear below. These are the standard Dublin Core metadata fields, from which we can fill out as many as we have available. (Remember, we can always edit or add to these fields.)

Filling in these fields (as many as we have available) adds metadata to the item when we save it, which will be stored and displayed alongside the item itself.

When you have finished filling in all of the available fields, you can save your item by clicking the “Add” button in the upper corner. (Note: for items that contain media files such as images, audio, etc., we will perform an additional step of attaching “Media” to this object. That can be done now, or after saving. For now, we will save this item, and attach our media file in the next step.)

7. Adding Media

Many items will include multimedia files such as images, audio, video, etc., as part of the item. To store these media files, we can use the “Media” tab from an Item’s edit screen.

(If you have saved an Item previously, you can always add media files after the fact by navigating to the “Items” menu as before, finding the item, clicking “Edit” (the pencil icon) and then browsing to the Media tab from that Item’s edit menu.)

From the Media tab, you can upload the media file you wish to attach (such as an image file, etc.) by clicking the “Upload” tab in the righthand “Add media” menu.

From here, you will see an “Upload” box appear in the central portion of the screen, where you can click the “Choose File” button to find the media file on your hard drive. When you have located the file, you will see its filename appear next to the Choose File button.

You can provide the Title of the image in the box above, and, when you are finished, click the “Add” button in the upper right corner of the screen. This will both save the image file to Omeka S, and add the media file (and its own media metadata) to this Item.

Omeka handles many media files automatically. As an example, adding an image Media file to an Item will then automatically show that image when viewing the Item on the Omeka S site. Metadata about the media file (such as its file format, its filesize, etc.) are also stored automatically.

8. Sites and Pages

A good learning exercise for Omeka S would be to set up a small collection of Items by repeating the steps above, so that we can then practice working with the display of not just individual items, but collections of Items.

After you have added at least one Item, we can begin to work with how to display these Items on Pages. These Pages make up the individual webpages that users will see when they access the Omeka S site. By setting up pages that include items, one begins to display the Digital Collection that makes up the core of an Omeka S site.

Before talking about Pages, it is important to understand that Omeka S operates as a “multisite.” This means that Omeka S, as a publishing platform, can create and serve out multiple individual “Sites.” Think of Sites as a sort of individual context for Items in Omeka S. These may be interrelated to the other Omeka S sites (for example, two research collections that potentially share objects), or they may be completely separate from one another. In this way, Omeka S allows you to potentially add and reuse individual Items between multiple sites if you wish to.

Before setting up Pages, we must first create at least one Site in Omeka S.

To do this, navigate to the main Admin Dashboard, and click the Sites button in the left menu. From here, we can see all of the Sites in the Omeka S environment (or an empty list if this is our first site), and we can click “Add new site” in the upper right.

Each new site has a few basic properties that we can provide, including the site’s TitleURL SlugSummary, and a Thumbnail. The Title will be displayed as the main name of this Omeka S site, and the “URL Slug” will be used as the site’s web address. (It’s a good practice to keep a URL Slug short and easy to type!)

We can fill these in and click “Add” in the upper right corner of this screen to finish creating our new Site. Once this is done, we will be able to begin creating Pages and displaying our Items on them.

Once our new Site is created, you can click the “Sites” menu link again in the lefthand Dashboard menu, and click the name of the new Site. This will select the Site and allow you to begin adding to or editing it.

An important note is that selecting a site also changes the context of the lefthand Omeka S Dashboard menu. You will notice a new set of options below the “Sites” heading, in a sub-menu that has your Site’s name at the top:

This sub-menu is specifically where you can set up the details of this individual site. Your particular menu may appear different than the above screenshot depending on your role, but this menu will be the place where you can begin to add or edit Pages, and add them to the Navigation. (More on Navigation shortly!)

For now, click the “Pages” menu, and you can begin to set up a new Page that will let you display your objects.

 

9. Pages and Items

The Pages menu will show you a list of all pages that are part of your selected Site. (This might appear as an empty list if this is your first Page.)

To begin, you can either click the Edit button (pencil icon) beside a Page you’d like to work on, or click “Add new page” in the upper right corner of the Pages menu to get started.

From the “New Page” screen, you can define the basic properties of the page. This includes the Page’s Title (the name of the page as it will display on the site), and URL Slug (same as above, this is used as the page’s web address and should ideally be short and easy to type). For now, let’s also check the Add to navigation box, which will automatically create a link to this page on the home screen of our Site. (We can always uncheck this, or edit our Navigation menu, in the future.) When you are finished, click “Add” in the upper right corner to save the page.

You will be taken to the editing screen for your Page, where you can begin to add or edit the Page’s content. (To get back to this at any point in the future, you can select your Site, click Pages in the left Dashboard menu, and click the Edit button (pencil icon) next to the Page you want to edit.)

For now, let’s test adding content to this page by clicking the “HTML” button in the right menu. This will add a block of HTML to our page that we can edit and add whatever text content we wish.

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Let’s test this by adding a brief bit of text to the new HTML block. By clicking into the text editor, you will see a menu open above it with text formatting options. This includes your normal document editor features such as paragraph styles, bold, italic, hyperlinks, etc. Type something here and we can test saving and viewing the page.

When you have typed something, click “Save” in the upper right corner of the screen. You will see a green message “Page successfully updated” when it saves. From here, you can click the “View” button to preview the page.

When you click “View” a new browser tab will open that shows you what the public will see when they view this Page. You will see your HTML block as the main section, with the content that you typed, and you will notice a link to your page (and any other pages in your current Navigation) above the page as a horizontal row of text links. (This is your Site’s “Navigation,” which we return to editing later.)

Adding HTML blocks makes up the bulk of the custom Page content in Omeka S, and we can add as many HTML block as we like. An example of this workflow would be to add an HTML block as an introductory text section on a page, and then to display Omeka S Items (our collection objects) below, followed by as many other HTML blocks and Items as we need to create the type of Page we want. (We’ll add these Items next!)

From here we can switch back to our Edit tab and continue editing the Page.

Next, in the right menu, click the “Media Embed” button to add another block to the Page.

The Media Embed block lets you choose one or more Items from your collection to display on a block of your page. This will display after your HTML block since it appears below it on the page. (You can click and drag on the “Move” icons, represented by three horizontal lines beside the name of each block, to rearrange these blocks.)

Click the “Add attachment” button to open a menu (on the right of the screen) that lets you pick from you Items. You can also type the Item name in the search box that appears, to find a particular Item. (This becomes especially useful once you have large numbers of Items in your Omeka S environment.)

Click an item to select it, and then click “Apply changes” at the bottom of this menu (or, you can first add a caption in the box above it if you wish), to add this Item to the Media embed block. You will see that Item (and its thumbnail, if it has Media like an image, etc.) appear in the “Attachments” heading.

Repeat this step for a few more Items until you have a few items in this Attachments section.

Before hitting Save, as a last step, change the “Options” menu items to create a more visually interesting layout for your objects:

  1. Change “Layout” to “Horizontal”
  2. Change “Image Type” to “square”

When you have these settings updated, hit “Save” again in the upper right of the screen, and hit “View” to preview your changes.

You will now see both your previous HTML block, and also a grid view of your Items, arranged into an evenly-sized layout that pairs their Media thumbnails with their Titles and any captions you added.

 

These thumbnails and titles are also links to the individual view for those items, which will display them alongside their full metadata.

 

You can continue adding Pages, editing Pages to include more HTML blocks or Media Embed blocks, or a variety of other options, to create the right context for the Items in your collection, and to create a Navigation that lets users easily browse through your collection.

10. Additional Features: TimelineJS

You can continue adding a variety of other types of media to your Omeka S website. As an optional additional step, please see our related toolkit, Creating an Interactive Timeline with TimelineJS, which covers creating a TimelineJS timeline and then adding it to Omeka S as a Page.