by Takes Archiving to the Cloud

Museum archives and scholarly collections have a new home online with yesterday’s release of Beta, a cloud-based Web-publishing platform from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

The program—commonly called “WordPress for museums” by its users—is a Web edition of the popular Omeka open-source content-management software that lets users create their own digital archives without having to download and code the software themselves. Though modeled on WordPress, the Omeka beta program is designed to store and display archival material—videos, documents, and images—rather than just blog entries. Whereas WordPress “is really good for doing journalism,” said Tom Scheinfeldt, the center’s managing director, “Omeka is very good at managing collections data.”

Omeka is open to anyone looking to post archives online and includes a menu of service plans to accommodate a wide range of users. The most basic plan—designed for individual scholars or museums with small collections—comes free with one Web site and up to 500MB of storage, while the premium paid plans—designed for larger institutional archives—offer more storage, Web pages, and features.

Because the software is open-source, third-party developers have contributed a number of Web plug-ins to enhance Omeka’s capabilities, including adding geo-location information and creating forums for reader interaction.

Wayne Graham, head of research and development at the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab, said Omeka is a good way to help students organize their ideas and research material. He sees great potential for collaboration on the platform. The Scholar’s Lab is now working with Omeka to develop plug-ins to improve archive search tools and include annotated maps.

The Center for History and New Media started the Omeka project in 2007 with grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It received another grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in 2009. According to Mr. Scheindfeldt, the stand-alone Omeka program has been downloaded more than 10,000 times since its debut in 2008, and hundreds of institutions are using it.

Alpha testing on the Omeka Web platform started in March with a test group of more than 200 volunteers. With the launch of the beta version, developers will continue to collect feedback from Omeka users to improve the software. “One of the strengths of the project is the community,” Mr. Scheinfeldt said. “Now, our hope is to reach out to an even broader audience.”

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