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Working with Omeka

After a brief hiatus from this blog due to an unexpectedly eventful spring break, I return to post some thoughts on a project I’m working on for my digital media class.  This week and next week we will be putting together online exhibits using Omeka.  I’ve been experimenting with Omeka for about a week now, and I’ve come to some initial conclusions.  I find the use of Dublin Core both necessary and incredibly frustrating at the same time.

On one hand, I understand the need for uniformity across the board for all Omeka users.  Dublin Core has certainly developed enough descriptive categories that most users would be hard pressed not to have a way to properly label their uploaded items.  When designing a platform to accommodate so many different users, uploading such a disparate array of items, having a standardized form makes sense.

But at the same time, for a first-time user, it has been challenging.  I’ve been uploading runaway ads from the Pennsylvania Gazette, and sometimes I’ve been unsure of how to fill out the various categories.  For the creator, do I list the newspaper, the individual who placed the ad, or something else?  Similarly, if I convert a page into a PDF and upload it as an item, what do I do if there are more than one runaway ads on that particular page?  I’m hesitant to put too much text into the description, because an excessive wall of text seems counterproductive to the way in which Omeka is set up and the way it uses Dublin Core.  So I guess you could say I’m struggling between understanding the need for uniformity and the problems caused by the rigidity of the descriptive categories.  This also leads me to question just how much variety you have in terms of uploading items.  The categories seem to make it better suited for images than text-based documents, but that might just be due to my inexperience with Omeka.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of user-generated data.  To me, this presents a similar challenge to the ability for users to tag pictures on flickr.  On one hand, allowing users to add their own data onto an exhibit item offers the ability to share authority, to connect to the visitors to the exhibit site, and, in some cases, to gain a greater, more in-depth description of a particular item.  But considering the specificity inherent in the Dublin Core classification, it seems to run contrary to the variance that could come from user-generated data.  Additionally, when you’re uploading something very specific, like a runaway ad, the terms and data can be precise.  I could see potential problems having individuals place their own terms on something like that.

I suppose this raises larger questions about who has the authority to classify these items.  Should it only be the professionals, who have the training and background necessary to input data, or are these artificial distinctions that limit the ability for historical exhibits to reach a wider audience because of some notion of a gate-keeper who holds authority?

Categories: Full Post, HIST 479
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