Creating a Digital Library

Omeka screenshotFor our Digital Libraries (IS40560) class we were asked to create create a small digital library using Omeka, a web-publishing platform that allows anyone to create a website to display collections and build digital exhibitions.

I created the Repository of Knitted Items to preserve and exhibit examples of hand knitted objects in a digital environment. As this was a student assignment it contains only examples of my own knitted items. The first part of the assignment required us to develop a collection and content policy. Then we had to populate our digital library, creating metadata, collections and generally play with Omeka to see what it could do. Below is the essay I wrote about my digital library creation experience.

Creating my Digital Library

Kucsma et al (2010) compare Omeka to WordPress in terms of its design, ease of use and high level of functionality. I consider myself to be very computer literate with a high level of technical skills. I have also previously used WordPress and so I expected creating a digital library in Omeka to be a relatively easy exercise. And it was, but it was not without its frustrations either.

For me, overall, I found Omeka to be too restrictive, with very little customisation options. I found it clunky to navigate compared to WordPress and was frustrated, for example, by the lack of a link on the public site to the dashboard when logged in. Even within the dashboard I didn’t find the navigation terribly intuitive. For example, to edit some of the visual settings the user must click on ‘settings’, ‘themes’ and the ‘configure’, rather than having some of these options part of the main settings.

I appreciate, however, that for a less techie person, this might be an ideal platform. I also appreciate that I was using the basic package and that upgrading to a paid-for package would give me greater design freedom. I took advantage of the plugins that are available on the basic package. These included Exhibit builder, Simple Pages and Library of Congress Suggest.

Populating my Digital Library

I used Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) for the Subject element within Dublin Core metadata using the Library of Congress Suggest plugin. I tried to be as comprehensive as possible when adding metadata to my objects; however was again frustrated that the subject terms are not clickable within each item, as you might expect from a library catalogue.

In terms of Dublin Core itself, I found this quite restrictive too as there was no way to add qualifiers to elements, for example I wanted to add qualifiers to the date to explain what it referred to – in this case the date the knitted item was finished. Kucsma et al (2010) also refer to the ability to qualify Dublin Core elements, however I believe these options are only available with a paid-for account. I wanted to record the needle size, yarn and colour of the knitted item but had to resort to including these details in the free-text Description field, standardising within my digital library the way in which I coded this information. I also added the information to the tags for each item in the library to aid searching.

Gill et al. (2008) caution that quality metadata creation is essential and advocate “establishing and enforcing processes and procedures” within an institution. I also found this to be true. For a larger project it would certainly be necessary to spend more time considering the metadata elements in terms of the objects I was trying to catalogue. For example, I had to keep reminding myself that I was recording metadata about the object in the image, not the image itself as my digital library collects digital images of knitted items, rather than the physical items themselves.

The CSV Import plugin would help with importing metadata, allowing the librarian to catalogue large numbers of objects in a spreadsheet before upload this to Omeka. This would be particularly useful as there is no way to batch edit objects in Omeka, should you change your mind about how your objects should be described, as I did on a few occasions. It would have been much easier to make changes in a spreadsheet than it was to edit each item individually, and I only have 15 items. Palmer and Knutson (2004) also found that ‘the basic work of creating, reconciling, and updating item metadata is a huge undertaking even for resource-rich institutions’.

Items in my digital library are licenced under a Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license (Creative Commons (n.d.)). This allows users to share, copy, distribute and transmit the objects and images as long as the work is attributed to the digital library and is for non-commercial use. Derivatives of the work are not permitted under the licence. Omeka allows the digital librarian to add this information and display the licence information on the homepage. Dublin Core also allows this information to be recorded for each item, which would be very useful if different objects could be licenced under different conditions.

The Future of my Digital Library

The value of a repository of knitted items is to record our cultural heritage, to record the creative output for future generations and to record the evolution of knitting trends. To this end I would consider connecting my library to other cultural institutions, for example museums or other institutions dealing with the history of textiles or crafts. A joint exhibition could be created using examples of knitting through the centuries, creating a collaborative history of textiles. The Repository of Knitted Items would contribute modern examples of knitting to the historical context.

To keep libraries, digital or otherwise, vibrant it would be necessary to connect to the community, as recommended by Pomerantz & Marchionini (2007). To facilitate this, our library would solicit further submissions to the library from the wider knitting community. By crediting members of the community who submit their knitted items to the library, we hope that they will actively engage with the collections and feel a sense of participation within the library.


Creative Commons (n.d.) Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. Retrieved from

Gill, T., Gilliland, A.J., Whalen, M. and Woodley, M.S. (2008). Introduction to Metadata. Retrieved from

Kucsma, J., Reiss, K. & Sidman, A. (2010). Using Omeka to Build Digital Collections: The METRO Case Study. D-Lib Magazine, 16(3/4). Retrieved from

Palmer, Carole L. and Ellen M. Knutson. 2004. Metadata practices and implications for federated collections. In Proceedings of the 67th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Edited by Linda Schamber & Carol L. Barry. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc: 456-462.

Pomerantz, J., & Marchionini, G. (2007). The Digital Library as Place. Journal of Documentation, 63(4), 505-533.


3 thoughts on “Creating a Digital Library

  1. Q – very interesting! As a retired computer teacher I really enjoy reading the research post on your blog. Does Omeka allow you to download and open in software such as Dreamweaver to customize? As WordPress does for a fee.

    • Thanks for your comment, these kinds of posts are a new departure for me so I’m happy that people are reading and enjoying them. Yes, the are packages you can buy if you wanted a larger digital collection with more control.

  2. I love your blog. We have so many things in common. I am Irish but now living in New York. I love knitting and I am a librarian. Omeka is a little awkward to me but at least it is open source. I don’t think I am as technical as you, I work in an academic art library and digitizations is getting more and more important. Just found out that the national library of Ireland have all of the catholic records digitized now and available online which is wonderful. Can’t imagine how much work that must have been though. Keep up the awesome blogging. I love it!

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