Source: Digital Collection Building

This week I have done a lot of considering the pros and cons and capabilities of various digital platforms for exhibiting online collections that either exhibit images in a way that mirrors a traditional gallery/museum painting on a wall, alone, with an identifying/descriptive label next to it, to supplementing with multimedia, annotating, and linking to other collections within the same platform or elsewhere on the web.

In our last class we went over the basics of Omeka and Scalar. I have not used either before, and my initial impression of their ease and usability, at least for the prospect of building a small themed digital gallery for Digital Assignment #1, is that they are fairly comparable. Their strengths do lie in different places for larger projects, however. They were both created in academic contexts, which their featured pages and demos make clear.

Outside of the classroom/workshop, I am running into decision-making time. For my project at the Ackland I mentioned in my last post, I am between presenting a combination map/timeline on Neatline, which is an Omeka plug-in, and from what I can gather, is a plug-in for Omeka only. It looks like with my most-Basic registration to Omeka I can only build one website under that login. Since we are putting our digital gallery straight from the TIFFs in the TMS database My other option is to use the possibly-easier but not as sophisticated combination of Timeline.JS and StoryMap.JS, which does offer me the chance to tell a couple of stories instead of jamming in too much information into one map. One story, based on the map, is of the artistic networks in Northern Europe generally, (I am thinking of tracing routes of the most mobile artists and Humanist thinkers, of which Hans Holbein, the subject of my colleague’s research, is one) and the timeline in which to focus on the immense production and competitive family printers in Basel.

I may be wrong about this, but one perk of this method is that I can just embed those Google-sheets driven maps and timelines straight on to the Ackland/Kress project website instead of linking out to Omeka and relying on that for Timeline; as JJ touched on in class a little bit, UNC supports but not the more customizable, and I don’t know if that could pose problems to the Neatline project in the sense of being supported long-term if that support changes? (Please correct my not-quite-fully-formed understanding of these platforms in the comments! Really!)

To further research other art historian users’ perceptions of Omeka and Scalar, I did a quick Google search and found the page “Building a Digital Portfolio” on, which appears to be documentation of a “digital humanities summer institute” last year offered to Art History students at George Mason University, which looks a condensed version of the lessons learned in ARRTH851: training in the tools of digital humanities and the presentation of successful examples of digital art history projects. A blog post from one of the participants articulated the look and feel of Omeka versus Scalar the best: “…Omeka’s interface emphasized individual items and options for their arrangement and display, whereas Scalar’s strength lies in the flexibility to create a context in which those same items may be related to each other in a variety of ways.”[1] This, in short, reiterates how Omeka functions more like a real-world exhibition, and Scalar guides the user through a story; Scalar in some ways allows the author to more direction in telling a specific narrative. Both are interactive, but nudge the user to interact differently.

The challenge I am fairly concerned about for future work with digital collections comes out of the overwhelming number of metadata standards for art/cultural items, or what Jenn Riley, Metadata Librarian in the Indiana University’s Digital Library Program, calls, “the sheer number of metadata standards in the cultural heritage sector”, which is “overwhelming, and their inter-relationships further complicate the situation.”[2] The chart Riley created both exposes this challenge while at least trying to elucidate what some of the metadata standards are best used for and why. She acknowledges the information overload, but at least wraps it up with a nice little bow. Riley breaks it down into four ways to group the standards, by: Domain, Community, Function, or Scope. Cultural items can be notoriously slippery to categorize. It is at once an exciting challenge, like learning a new language (or 105) but could potentially open up gaps of misunderstanding between collections and institutions that don’t use the same metadata standards, or when descriptive metadata is logged slightly differently from librarian to archivist to collections manager. I would hope that instead of having this diagram and glossary on hand to refer to (and ultimately, Riley or one of her Metadata Librarian colleagues will have to update to “Seeing Standards 2.0” and beyond), I will gain enough experience with relevant standards to know which is best for my purposes.

So far I have minimal experience, either in my work with the Digital Production Center in Special Collections at Wilson Library or simply through classroom overview and exercises in INLS 520 (Organization of Information) with the Dublin Core, Dewey Decimal, Encoded Archival Description, Library of Congress Classification and Subject Headings, Linked Data, Machine Readable Cataloging, Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, Resource Description and Access, Resource Description Framework, CIDOC/CRM VRA Core, and XML. Though I don’t have full facility with any of these standards yet, I wasn’t even aware of any of these languages, other than Library of Congress, MARC, and Dewey Decimal, before last summer, so I feel at least confident in my awareness of these standards and my potential use of them in the future.


[1] Mary Thomas, “Scalar and Omeka: First Impressions.” July 20, 2015.

[2], “Mapping the world of cultural metadata standards.” November 4, 2011.