Create a digital exhibit using Omeka, a powerful tool for creating and organizing collections and digital objects.

Teaching Toolkit: Building an Exhibit

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One way you can use Domains of One’s Own at Penn is to create a digital archive. We offer a variety of platforms that can host multimedia objects and descriptions with varying levels of privacy. Building a digital exhibit can help students gain experience working with primary sources in a variety of formats, creating work for a public audience, and provide avenues for discussion about constructing knowledge. This toolkit includes all the resources for incorporating a digital exhibit as a scaffolded class project, focusing on the data and digital literacy skills needed. 


In this toolkit, we recommend using Omeka. Exhibits can be created using other platforms available through Domains like WordPress, and would follow a similarly scaffolded structure.  

Learning Objectives

  • Curate and classify objects
  • Demonstrate how to identify and synthesize research for a public audience
  • Introduce key concepts and best practices in creating digital exhibits, including audience assessment, metadata creation, planning, and organization 
  • Demonstrate historical empathy, curiosity about the past, and appreciation for historical sources and historical actors
  • Introduce Omeka, a digital platform for building exhibits 


Instruction Time: 2-3 class sessions 

Building Time: 3-4 weeks


Before the session begins it is important to provide clear instruction on how to find and assess sources. This will be discipline specific, and should include a discussion of primary and secondary sources, as well as the difference between peer reviewed, academic sources, and those from the popular media or trade publications. We also recommend partnering with a subject librarian or special collections curator in your field to assist you in finding and citing archival materials. You might consider assigning an annotated bibliography or short summaries of potential sources with citations. 


Similarly, it is important to discuss how to find and cite media objects, including images, videos, and infographics. Have a discussion about finding and using fair use and public domain sources. More info here: 



A spreadsheet for collecting items and content for the exhibit


Collecting Content

Discuss the overarching idea of the exhibit, as well as criteria for which items and content should be collected. Encourage students to identify items, create metadata, and build their questions and research from there. 


One of the key features of Omeka is metadata — information about the materials in the collections. The process of adding metadata is simple: fill in the form with information about the item — title, description, creator, geographic location, time period, etc. You can add as little or much detail as is helpful.  There are ways to add further format specific metadata and even create your own categories. Deciding what terms to use for a subject are not value-free judgements.  Having students engage in these decision-making processes allows them to better understand key elements of the field and the ways that categories — in books, in library classifications, and in discourse — shape the information we find and the questions we ask, in short, how we make knowledge.

Introduce Omeka

Omeka is a web publishing tool for online digital archives, and recommended for digital exhibit assignments. Plan to designate at least two class periods to introduce Omeka and explore its functionality.  

Writing a Narrative

Collectively map out the exhibit. Work with students to develop the thesis of the exhibit and how to make it through the selected items. The exhibit might be thematic, chronological, or genre-based. Encourage students to draw out a map of the exhibit, showing where to put each item or narrative. 


Build the Site

Depending on the scope of the exhibit, students can populate the Omeka site. For example, a student may populate the following Dublin Core descriptors for 5-10 items, place them into relevant ‘Collections’ and then construct an ‘Exhibit’ outlining the scholarly significance and interrelation of the items. 


  • Organization: Can a user identify an exhibit structure (menus, content categorization, page layout)? Does this exhibit have clear paths for users to follow? Do the pages, links, and sections flow together to enhance the content of the exhibit? 
  • Citation: Are the images used in this exhibit consistently cited? Are a bibliography and works cited present? 
  • Research: Does this exhibit present a thesis or argument? Are the claims made in the exhibit supported by evidence? Do the primary sources connect to the secondary research? 
  • Audience: Is the audience for the exhibit considered and articulated through the organization, writing style, analysis, and conclusion?


Overview – Omeka – Guides at Penn Libraries

Omeka Classic User Manual