Omeka 1: Items and Collections

Omeka is a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the curation and display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions. Its accessibility makes launching an online exhibition as easy as launching a blog.

In this tutorial we demonstrate and encourage you to try creating an Omeka instance using the freely available service. The steps in this tutorial will encourage you to create items in your repository, describe those objects, and add them to collections. A follow on tutorial uses Omeka to create an engaging and compelling curated exhibit.

All the files (bundled as a zip file) to carry out this exercise are available here: OmekaTutorialFiles. You can download them, unzip them and save them to your desktop to work with them.

You will create a new account at; and download the archive of files at

This tutorial is available as a PDF file (included in the zip file) so you can print out and follow along on your own system.

Version 1.0 of this tutorial was created in October 2011 and has been most recently updated in April 2017.

Tutorial Exercise

Step 1 – Sign Up for an Account with

The lovely folks from Omeka make it possible to have your own Omeka server for absolutely free. The first step in this tutorial is to sign up for a free account. If you have not already done so, browse to and click the button “Sign Up!”

Step 2 – Submit and Confirm Your Details

When you choose to sign up you will see the variety of packages (including the free plan) that are available. It’s always reassuring to know that there are additional options and that you can migrate your plan as your needs increase. However, today let’s choose the Free plan. The button for this is in the bottom left corner.

See the Choose button down there? You get a Basic plan with 500Mb of storage, 1 site, 15 plugins and 5 themes for free. A very generous offer. Choose that button. When you do you will see a screen asking you for your basic sign up information.

Choose a memorable username (write this down as you will need it along with your password to continue this tutorial). This need not be your real name. Choose a memorable password, confirm it and enter your full name. Your email is where Omeka will send your server information, so make sure this is an account your can access for the purposes of this tutorial. Finally agree to the terms of service, enter the CAPTCHA and click the Sign Up button.

Now check your email and you should shortly receive an email confirming your account and providing a URL for you to click to confirm your email and start using Omeka.

When you click the URL you should see the above screen. You are now logged in and ready to go!

Step 3 – Log In and Meet the Omeka Dashboard

Click the small button in the bottom right corner of the screen to ‘Add a Site”. Without a site there isn’t much to see.

Enter a name for your Site. This one word will be used to generate a unique subdomain at You can now give your site a title and give it a short description. This can be changed in the future and your sole site can also be deleted if you want to use your one free site for something else. For this tutorial enter some data that make sense to you and what we are doing today.

Now you have something to play with. Omeka shows you the name of your site, how much space it is using and gives you the option to: view the site as it will look to users; manage the site and also push the nuclear button and delete the site.

Let’s set some default options for the site we have created. Click the Manage Site button and you should see a Dashboard closely resembling the one below:

This is where we will manage our Omeka instance. The Dashboard is for Administrators and Editors.

Let’s see what the site looks like to users at this stage. Click the site name (in this case Omeka @ NBTP) and you will see what a user sees.

It’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s ready to go but it’s empty. So let’s get started.

Step 4 – Add an Item

So. The Dashboard shows us that there is nothing to see in our Omeka instance.  0 – items, 0 – collections, 0 – tags and 0 – plugins. It’s time to change that.

Omeka is designed for managing and staging items. These are digital objects and Omeka collects information from you about these objects to aid in their organisation, storage, discovery, preservation, retrieval and staging.

You can click the Items summary from your dashboard or Items from the left menu. When you do you will get a list of items currently in your Omeka.

Choose Add Item.

Omeka is configured by default to describe objects using Dublin Core metadata. When you add an item, Omeka provides a form to guide you through the population of the DC fields.

We are going to describe this photograph:

American Hotel, Guelph, 1890

This is a newspaper photograph of the American Hotel in Guelph taken in 1890. It was published in the Guelph Daily Mercury in August of that year and subsequently. It was scanned by Shawn Day and placed into the public domain under CC0.

Using this information attempt to enter useful metadata into the 15 fields of the DC screen.

Then choose the Item Type Metadata tab and choose Still Image.

Finally, from the Files tab, choose File: sd2001-001AmericanHotel1890.jpg which is the representation of this photograph included in the files downloaded at the outset of this tutorial.

Finally – and most importantly click the Add Item button to save all of this information and create your first item.



Step 5 – Create a Collection and Add Item to it

Collections of items help to organise the objects in our repository.

We now one item in our repository. We now need a collection to add it to.

Please click on Collections in the left hand tabs/menu:

Collections are similar to items in that they are well described digital objects in their own right. Please click on ‘Add a Collection‘ and you will see a similar screen helping you define the metadata associated with your collection. Please create a new collection ‘Hotels‘ and fill up as many of the DC fields that you feel comfortable with. Click Save as you did with the Item and you should have a shiny new Collection:

You can now add your item to the collection. Choose Items from the left hand menu and then note that you can edit the item metadata by choosing Edit below the title of the Item. When you do so you will see the drop down menu to the right which now offers Hotels as a collection option. Select it and Click Save.

Your Collection Hotels now contains one item.

Add a second collection using the same process and call it People.

This process may seem a might laborious. You may be asking yourself is there a better way? In fact, there is!

Step 6 – Add a group of Items to the repository

One of the files that you downloaded to your computer at the beginning of this tutorial is a spreadsheet file containing a list of hotels and a second of people, with their associated metadata and URLs pointing to images that accompany each of them.

Omeka has a facility for creating new items by importing a CSV file of items. To enable this functionality we need to learn about Plug-Ins for Omeka. Plug-Ins allow additionally functionality to allow additional tasks to be added to our Omeka installation.

Choose Plug-Ins from the top menu of Omeka.

You will be presented with a list of all available Plug-Ins. There are 15 made available to you under the free plan. There are even more available with other plans or using your own installation of Omeka.

We want to import a CSV file containing object metadata so we need to enable the CSV Import Plugin. If it is not installed, first click Install. Then click the ‘Activate‘ button.

The only visible change you will see is an additional menu tab to the left.

When you click on this tab, you will be presented with a screen that will lead us through the process of importing.

From the directory of files you downloaded Choose File: mcAteerPeople.csv. This file is a collection of 8 records fully populated and linked to image files on this server. Make sure that Automap columns is selected. This will make things easier. Also select Still Image from Item Type and Add to the Collection People created earlier. Also click the box labelled Make All Items Public. Now click the Next Button at the foot of the screen.

You will now get an additional screen showing how records in the file will be mapped to your Dublin Core metadata schema. Take a look that all fields show a corresponding field in the Map to Element and not ‘Select Below’ Alas, our first one does. As you can see it is the Title Field, so choose Dublin Core Title from the drop down list.

The only other aspect we have to intervene in is to let Omeka know where our images are. In this case, the last column header is URL and contains a link to the image stored online. Click in the box labelled “Files?’.

Once you have completed these steps click ‘Import CSV File‘ and if all goes to plan you will now see a status screen.

Omeka will import this file in the background. If you refresh your screen you should get a new message indicating ‘Completed’ and an indication of how many items were imported as well of whether any items were skipped.

Please repeat this process using the file ‘mcAteerHotels.csv‘ and add an additional 8 records to our repository. When you are doing this make sure that you add these items to the ‘Hotels‘ collection you created and not to the ‘People’ collection.

When this is completed you should have a rich repository and if you choose Items from the tabs/menu to the left you should have burgeoning list of items.

Moreover if you view your site to see what Users would see it is looking nicely populated.

Step 7 Change Appearance

We haven’t customised the way users experience our Omeka repository. Let’s try changing the theme.

Back at the Dashboard, Choose ‘Appearance‘ from the top menu. Omeka will now show us the installed themes available to change the look of our site.

Choose the Minimalist Theme by clicking on ‘Use this Theme‘. You can then further click on the button ‘Configure Theme‘ below the chosen theme preview. When you do this you will see a variety of other options.

You can make changes and then remember to ‘Save Changes’. When you do, click on the Title of your site and you will get a new window showing how users will now see the site. Note that it has gone from a modernistic blue and white theme to a funkier minimalistic purple theme with a different arrangement of your screen elements.

You now have a lively and engaging repository of digital objects constructed using Omeka. The subject of our next tutorial is how we can curate from this repository to create compelling Exhibits of digital objects and narrative. If you wish you can choose to proceed to this tutorial from the link below.

But wait! There’s more …