This originally appeared on the ACRL TechConnect blog.
Omeka is an easy to use content management system for digital exhibits created by the Ray Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. It’s very modular, so you can customize it for various functions. I won’t go into the details here on how to set up Omeka, but you can read documentation and see example collections at Omeka.org. If you want to experiment with Omeka without installing it on your own server, you can set up a hosted account at Omeka.net
Earlier this year Omeka was completely rewritten and released a 2.0 version (now 2.1). Like with many open source content management systems, it took awhile for the contributed plug-ins and themes to catch up to the new release. As of July, most of the crucial contributed plug-ins were available, and if you haven’t yet updated your installation this is a good time to think about doing so. In this post I’m going to focus on the process of customizing Omeka 2.0 to your institution, and specifically creating a custom theme. While there are now several good themes available for 2.0, you will probably want to make a default theme that matches the rest of your website. One of the nice features of Omeka that is quite different from other content management systems is that it is very easy for the people who create exhibits to pick a custom theme that differs from the default theme. That said, providing a custom theme for your institution makes it easy for visitors to know where they are, and will also make it easier on the staff who are creating exhibits since you can adapt the theme to their needs.
Like any design project, you should start with a discussion with the people who use the system most. (If you are new to design, check the ACRL TechConnect posts on design). In my case, there are two archives on campus who both use Omeka for their exhibits. Mock up what the layout should look like–you may not be able to get it perfectly, but use this as a guide to future development. We came up with a rough sketch based on what the archivist liked and didn’t like about templates available, and worked together on determining the priorities for the design. (Side note: if you can get your whole wall painted with whiteboard paint this is a very fun collaborative project.)
Development is very easy to start when you are modifying an existing theme. Start with a theme (there are only a few that are 2.0 compatible) that is close to what you need. Rather than the subtheme system you may be used to with Drupal or WordPress, with Omeka you can pick the theme you want to hack on and copy the entire directory and rename it.
Here was the process I followed to build my theme. I suggest that you set up a local development environment (I used XAMPP) to do this work, but make sure that you have at least one exhibit to test, since some of the CSS is different for exhibits than for the rest of the site.
- Pick a theme
I started with the Seasons theme. I copied the seasons directory from the themes directory and pasted it back with a new name of luctest (which I renamed when it was time to move it to a production environment).
- Modify theme.ini
This is what you will start with. You really only need to edit the author, title, and description unless you want to edit the rest.
[theme] author = "Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media" title = "Seasons" description = "A colorful theme with a configuration option to switch style sheets for a particular season, plus 'night'." license = "GPLv3" website = "<a href="http://omeka.org">http://omeka.org</a>" support_link = "<a href="http://omeka.org/forums/forum/themes-and-public-display">http://omeka.org/forums/forum/themes-and-public-display</a>" omeka_minimum_version="2.0" omeka_target_version="2.0" version="2.1.1" tags="yellow, blue, summer, season, fall, orange, green, dark"
- Modify config.ini
Check which elements are set in the configuration (i.e. the person such as an archivist who is creating the exhibit can set them) and which you need to set in the theme. This can cause a lot of frustration when you attempt to style an element whose value is actually set by the user. If you don’t want to allow the user to change anything, you can take that option out of the config.ini, just make sure you’ve set it elsewhere.
[config] ; Style Sheet style_sheet.type = "select" style_sheet.options.label = "Style Sheet" style_sheet.options.description = "Choose a style sheet" style_sheet.options.multiOptions.spring = "Spring" style_sheet.options.multiOptions.summer = "Summer" style_sheet.options.multiOptions.autumn = "Autumn" style_sheet.options.multiOptions.winter = "Winter" style_sheet.options.multiOptions.night = "Night" style_sheet.options.value = "winter" logo.type = "file" logo.options.label = "Logo File" logo.options.description = "Choose a logo file. This will replace the site title in the header of the theme. Recommended maximum width for the logo is 500px." logo.options.validators.count.validator = "Count" logo.options.validators.count.options.max = "1" display_featured_item.type = "checkbox" display_featured_item.options.label = "Display Featured Item" display_featured_item.options.description = "Check this box if you wish to show the featured item on the homepage." display_featured_item.options.value = "1" display_featured_collection.type = "checkbox" display_featured_collection.options.label = "Display Featured Collection" display_featured_collection.options.description = "Check this box if you wish to show the featured collection on the homepage." display_featured_collection.options.value = "1" display_featured_exhibit.type = "checkbox" display_featured_exhibit.options.label = "Display Featured Exhibit" display_featured_exhibit.options.description = "Check this box if you wish to show the featured exhibit on the homepage." display_featured_exhibit.options.value = "1" homepage_recent_items.type = "text" homepage_recent_items.options.label = "Homepage Recent Items" homepage_recent_items.options.description = "Choose a number of recent items to be displayed on the homepage." homepage_recent_items.options.maxlength = "2" homepage_text.type = "textarea" homepage_text.options.label = "Homepage Text" homepage_text.options.description = "Add some text to be displayed on your homepage." homepage_text.options.rows = "5" homepage_text.options.attribs.class = "html-input"
(This is just a sample of part of the config.ini file).
- Modify CSS
Open up css/style.css and check which elements you need to modify (note that some themes may have the style sheets divided up differently.) Some items are obvious, some you will have to use Firebug or another tool to determine which class styles the element. You can always ask in the Omeka themes and display forum if you can’t figure it out.
The Seasons theme has different styles for each color scheme, and in the interests of time I picked the color scheme closest to the color scheme I wanted to end with. You could use the concept of different schemes to identify the collections and/or exhibits of different units. Make sure you read through the whole style sheet first to determine which elements are theme-wide, and which are set in the color scheme.
- Test, test, test
The 2.0 themes that I’ve experimented with are all responsive and work well with different browsers. This probably goes without saying, but if you have changed the spacing at all, make sure you test your design in multiple window sizes and devices.
We have a few additional items to add to this design, but it’s met our immediate needs very well, and most importantly matches the design of the Archives and Special Collections website so it’s clear to users that they are still in the right place.
Since this was a new content management system to me, I still have a lot to learn about the best ways to do certain things. This experience was helpful not just in learning Omeka, but also as a small-scale test of planning a new theme for our entire library website, which runs on Drupal.