Working in Omeka
When I signed up for this class, I had a certain skill set regarding the ways that students typically perform and are evaluated in the classroom. These included formal analysis, canvas blog posts, class discussion, and essays written in word that would be printed and slipped under a door or into a mailbox.
While I did use some of my aforementioned skills in this class, I was also introduced to a brand new set. I had never created and managed a domain. I had never added subdomains to account for a variety of topics. I had never used a shared annotation tool such as Hypothesis to share my comments about class readings. While I had worked in Creative Commons, I had never pulled material off of Shared Shelf to utilize in my work. Perhaps the biggest learning curve was that I had never curated a digital archive before. In fact, I had never even met someone who had curated a digital archive before. Omeka was a completely abstract concept.
At the start of the semester, all of the tools and skills that we would be using seemed foreign and abstract to me. Without a doubt, they sounded alluring. But also intimidating and highly technical in a way that made me uncomfortable and unsure. And yet, out of all of the digital platforms that we used over the course of the semester, I am perhaps the most comfortable now with Omeka. This is likely the result of just extreme exposure to the program and the necessity of working in the nitty gritty details for hours on end.
The concept of meta-data was completely new to me. Data seemed like such an empirical word and so straight forward. I had never considered the necessity of taking account of the data you have. But it only makes sense that if there is data about anything measurable than there should be data about data! There was surely a learning curve in terms of categorizing metadata, however with the generous aid of Jordan Noyes and Susan Falciani, it soon felt like second nature and every vocabulary word had a meaning that I could understand and expand upon.
It did take me a while to realize that everything I wanted to archive needed to be added as an item in Omeka. Because Omeka is slightly reminiscent of a social-networking sight in that you can upload and post content, I kept thinking that I could upload photos right from my Desktop and into the pages of the exhibit where I wanted it to go. Obviously this is not the case because without the photo’s metadata, the photo is illegitimate. The (painstaking) process of entering metadata for items really made me appreciate that every photo, every piece of media in general really, has a specific context of production.
When we look at a photo now, there is so much that we forget to ask. Who took this photo? And where? And when? And how? We see the desperate attempt at reclaiming metadata when a someone will half-jokingly comment on a friend’s Instagram post demanding photo credit. But photos and media are moving so fast and so far. How can we track down the specific context of where each one came from? And without that context, how significant can this photo be fifty years from now?
I am grateful for my time working in Omeka for familiarizing me with the intricate processes of retaining a piece of media’s significant information before dispensing it into the world of public eyes, from where it might never return.