5 Free and Open Source Tools for Creating Digital Exhibitions

What are digital exhibitions?

Many libraries and museums have taken their special collections such as rare books, manuscripts, photographs, pamphlets, news clippings, musical scores and more and have digitized them to create collections of digital assets that can be displayed online through a digital exhibition.  Digital exhibits such as these offer unprecedented access to organizational treasures that might never be seen otherwise except by those with local physical access to the museum or library.  A new breed of open-source and free software tools has recently emerged making it possible to catalog and manage digital collections and create robust narratives and layouts for display online.


Major Software Tools

These are the main software applications which are used by libraries and museums to create digital exhibits and for digital asset management.  The industry leader in this space is a proprietary application called Contentdm (http://www.contentdm.org/) created by OCLC.  Contenddm is a digital collection management software that allows for the upload, description, management and access of digital collections.  This application offers robust cataloging features and an easy-to-use interface but is cost-prohibitive for many non-profit organizations. Entry level CONTENTdm options start at $4,300 annually with mid-size Licenses that start at a $10,000 one-time fee with ongoing annual maintenance starting at $2,000.



A Contentdm Digital Collection


Free and Open Source Tools

However, there are many free and open source alternatives to Contentdm for creating online interactive digital exhibits.

Omeka is a free, open source web publishing system for online digital archives.  Its main focus/strength is producing websites and online exhibitions.  Both the Web interface and back end cataloging system are one unified application.  Users can build attractive websites and exhibits using templates and page layouts, without having to adjust code, although more robust displays can be created by customizing the CSS and HTML files, and moving around some PHP snippets.  Omeka has a plugin available for OAI support to make collections harvestable by major search engines.  Although Omeka is a bit more limited than some other applications such as Collective Access (see below) in terms of cataloging & metadata capabilities, it allows fast/easy creation of online exhibits through a Web interface, a low learning curve, many plugins with added functionality, and a large developer community.

Metadata Supported: Omeka uses Dublin Core and MODS metadata, and offers customizable item type cataloging.  There are many templates and plugins which offer added functionality such as displaying items on Google Maps, providing LCSH for cataloging

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available? Omeka offers both a hosted, Web-based version or the downloadable application which can be installed and hosted on-site by the organization.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






Collective Access
Collective Access is a free, open source cataloging tool and web-based application for museums, archives and digital collections.  Its main focus/strength is on cataloging and metadata.  You can create very robust cataloging records, create relationships between items, create profiles of creators and subjects of items and link them to objects, etc.  Collective Access offers multiple metadata schemas.  The Web component, called Pawtucket, is a separate installation, and necessitates editing php files in order to build/adjust websites.  A front-end PHP programmer would be necessary with this solution, and quite possibly one to set up the back-end templates as well.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: DublinCore, VRA, CDWA/CCO, MARC (planned), others, plus the ability to create in house standards and to customize existing standards.  Ability to access external data sources and services such as LCSH, Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus, and GoogleMaps, GoogleEarth or GeoNames for geospatial cataloguing.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






ColectionSpace is a free, open-source collections management application for museums, libraries, historical societies, and other organizations with special collections.  The application is administered by Museum of the Moving Image, but it’s a joint partners with the division of Information Services and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley and the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies at the University of Cambridge.   The software is made up of a suite of modules and services for managing your collections of digital assets, however it doesn’t have any native ability to create digital exhibits.  Instead, it enables users to connect with other open-source applications already in use by the cultural sector for online exhibition creation.  The application allows for the creation of a customized controlled vocabulary for describing collections.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: CollectionSpace supports multiple metadata schemas including DublinCore and customized schemas.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums






Open Exhibits
Open Exhibits is a multitouch, multi-user tool kit that allows you to create custom interactive exhibits.  The strength of this application has less to do with cataloging collections of digital assets, but developing online and interactive exhibits with digital objects.  The multi-touch piece comes into play with the ability to specify that certain types of user behaviors will result in various outcomes, e.g. if a user drags a certain section of an image, the entire image will move and readjust along with the movement.  Users without technical expertise can work with pre-existing templates and modules, while developers can create their own with the SDK kit.  The application uses a combination of its own markup languages – Creative Mark-up Language (CML) and Gesture Mark-up Language (GML) along with CSS libraries.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The application is downloadable and must be hosted by the organization, no hosted version is available.

Metadata Supported: Not applicable.

Recommended for: Museums






Pachyderm is a free, open-source and easy-to-use multimedia authoring tool created by the New Media Consortium (NMC).  It’s been designed for people with little technology or multimedia experience and involves little more than filling out a web form. Authors place their digital assets (images, audio clips, and short video segments) into pre-designed templates, which can play video and audio, link to other templates, zoom in on images, and more. Completed templates result in interactive, Flash-based presentations that can include images, sounds, video, and text that can be downloaded and displayed on websites or can be kept on the Pachyderm server and linked directly from there.

Hosted Version and/or Downloadable Code Available?  The NMC has stated that they are no longer offering hosted accounts at this time so the application must be downloaded and hosted by the organization or individual.

Metadata Supported: Not applicable.

Recommended for: Libraries, Museums, Educators, Individuals




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10 Ways to Use IFTTT To Automate Your Social Media Branding

IFFT is a new service that stands for If This, Then That. It’s an incredibly easy to use website that lets you set up or copy recipes for automating just about anything. I’ve written about this handy tool before, however in a nutshell it works with 60 different applications including most of the major social media channels, and necessitates filling out simple online forms.

Alternatively, you can use pre-existing recipes that others have put together to automate a wide variety of tasks. For example, how would you like to get a text message every time your organization’s Facebook Page had new activity? Or have a Facebook status update automatically generated every time your library or organization was about to hold an event?

If you’re handling the social media marketing for your organization’s brand, or just for yourself, you’ll want to check out these IFTTT recipes to get you started automating those efforts:




1. If there’s new activity on my Facebook brand’s Page, send me a text.


Grab the RSS feed for your brand Page on Facebook by clicking into ‘Notifications’ at the top right of the page and selecting “Get notifications via: RSS”.  Then use this RSS to SMS recipe to simply plug in the feed and have all notifications turn into text messages sent to your phone.




2. When I post to my blog, send the post to LinkedIn


If you are using the hosted version of WordPress.com for your blog, you can use this recipe to automatically post your blog articles to LinkedIn.  If you’re hosting your own WordPress blog, simply use the RSS to LinkedIn recipe here: https://ifttt.com/recipes/20880




3. If there’s a new Twitter Search result for my brand, add it to a spreadsheet in Google docs.

Using this recipe, you can set up a Twitter search variable for your brand’s hashtag and have all mentions be recorded on a spreadsheet in Google Drive.  For just a keyword search for the brand name and not a hashtag, simply adjust the feed url that the author provides so that you remove everything after the = sign where you can plug in your search term.  For example, a Twitter search for me would be http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=ellyssa



4. When my Facebook profile picture changes, update my Twitter profile picture.


Use this recipe to automatically change your Twitter profile photo every time you update your Facebook profile pic.



5. Every time I’m tagged in a photo on Facebook, it will be sent to Dropbox.


This is one of my personal favorites because I love to be tagged in photos on Facebook, but I oftentimes forget to make a copy of the image for myself. This recipe will automatically create backups of those images you’re tagged in and send them to your Dropbox account.



6. If a Google Calendar event starts, post it to my Facebook Page.

If you’re using Google Calendar to keep track of your brand events you can use IFTTT to automatically create a Facebook status update 15 minutes before the event starts with the location and name of event.



7. Tweet my Facebook status updates


Set up IFTTT to automatically tweet for you whenever you post a status update on Facebook, saving you time to post more updates!



8. Tweet my Blog Posts


Automatically create tweets out of your blog posts, linking back to your WordPress blog. There are also recipes for other types of blogs besides WordPress as well as straight RSS to Twitter recipes.




9. When I’m notified about a new Twitter follower, tweet them a welcome message

Gmail and HootSuite users can use this automation to greet new followers on Twitter.  This recipe will automatically access the Gmail email mentioning your new follower and will create a tweet via HootSuite with a thanks message that you customize.



10. If I Pin a Photo on Pinterest, post the photo to Facebook

If you’re using the Pinterest, digital pinboard application, you can automatically post the same photos to Facebook as you pin to Pinterest by following this recipe.


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How to Create a Social Media Posting Hub with HootSuite

Instead of visiting every social network every day and posting separate status updates, why not set up a social media hub where you can access your customized dashboard and monitor and post to them all at once?



HootSuite is a powerful social media manager with over 6 million users.

It will let you monitor and post to multiple social networks including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, etc.  You can schedule and deploy status updates and tweets in advance, track mentions of your name, and view reports analyzing social media traffic.  The application offers the Ow.ly url shortener for quickly making short urls to post on Twitter.  And there are mobile apps available for nearly every type of device.

Here’s what you can do with some of the major social media applications:



Use HootSuite to send and schedule Tweets, search what others are tweeting, organize your tweets by list or keyword, as well as monitor Mentions, Direct Messages, Sent Tweets, Favorited Tweets, and more in dedicated streams.




Post updates, add images, monitor feeds, and more.




HootSuite allows you to post directly to your Company Pages, Groups and Profiles, as well as create job search streams.



Google+ Pages

Share and comment on posts, search public posts and updates, see recent user activity, as well as view comments and +1s.




schedule and cross-post content to multiple WordPress accounts. The publishing platform integration also allows you to reblog noteworthy posts and create a stream for blogs you’re following.


Create Your Own!

Start by signing up for a HootSuite account here: https://hootsuite.com

You will then be brought to your dashboard page and you’ll see that you haven’t set up any tabs or added any social networks yet.




Set up Your Profile

You can start by filling out your profile by clicking on the default owl avatar in the upper left corner.  This will lead you to your profile page where you can edit your info and start adding social networks.




Add Social Networks

Once you’re done with your profile, click to start adding your networks.  You can add up to 5 with the free account.  You will be prompted to login to your social networks as you choose each one.  HootSuite will then be authorized to access those applications and feed in your info and enable you to post to your accounts from within HootSuite.




View Tabs

Once you’re done adding your social networks, click on the Home icon on the left navigation.  This will bring you to your main dashboard where you will see that HootSuite has set up tabs for you displaying different feeds from each of your networks.  You can organize any of these by dragging and dropping them with the mouse.  Now you can easily monitor what’s happening on all of your social networks in one interface.




Post Status Updates and Tweets

You’re now ready to start posting to your social networks.  Click into the “Compose message” box at the top and you will see that it expands.  Here is where you can write your status update or tweet, include a link to a website in the “add a link” box to be automatically shortened, and choose which of your social networks to send the update/tweet/message to.  Also, if you click on the calendar icon, a scheduling interface appears and you can choose the time and date that your update will be deployed to your networks of choice!




View Reports

There are basic reports that are available with the free account of HootSuite.  Click on the analytics icon on the left navigation and choose either: Twitter Overview, Ow.ly Click Summary, or URL Click Stats – Ow.ly.





Congrats! Now you know how to create your own social media posting dashboard, monitor your networks, schedule and post to multiple networks at once and view analytical reports.


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