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Content Management & Exhibits

Omeka in the Workplace

Recently, I was hired to work as a summer intern at Tufts Archives and Given Memorial Library. It’s a small, but very pretty, little library in Pinehurst, North Carolina. For the most part, the Archives only keeps artifacts and documents related to their hometown, which mostly means that archivists save an absurd amount of information about retired white folks golfing away their golden years at the historic Pinehurst Resort. During the interview, my future boss explained to me that hours of their day are spent scanning and digitally archiving pictures and documents. Their backlog is insane. Tufts was opened during the 1960s, but they didn’t begin digital storage until 2015. This leaves the workers with about 70,000 papers to digitize and more coming in every day. Needless to say, I know what one of my major responsibilities will be this summer.  

Thankfully, Tufts is making use of Omeka and PastPerfect to keep their information safe and accessible. Since its original release in 2008, Omeka has proven invaluable for many historical societies, teachers, and museums. It is a software that allows users to manage and display images, text, and even sound and video files. Without programs like Omeka, small archives like Tufts would honestly not be able to enter the digital age, much less allow their workers easy access to the information they want. Best of all, it’s really reasonably priced. The basic application is free to all users, and even the premium application is only $1549. Tufts, and organizations like it, need those cheap prices because so many of them are funded through donations. It’s clear that the team that created Omeka care about preserving history and furthering their user experience.

My future boss explained to me that although they used Omeka for about three years, Tufts is working on transitioning their digital storage to the PastPerfect Museum Software. She didn’t explain the reasons for this change, and simply stated that it fits their needs better. However, when I mentioned that I had heard of the programs through my digital history class, she was incredibly complimentary towards both softwares. Despite the effort that goes into managing the book store, library, and archives all while digitizing a ton of information, she definitely believes that it would have been impossible without Omeka and PastPerfect. If you are interested in the Tufts website, it can be found HERE. If you wish to check out their digital archives, you can find it HERE.  

5 replies on “Omeka in the Workplace”

Congratulations on your job! That’s great you are working with the resources we are talking about in order to preserve some local history. I’m glad Tufts is willing to use sites like Omeka to share their historical resources. However, I want to talk more about how most of these sources are about “retired white folks golfing away their golden years at the historic Pinehurst Resort.” So while it is great that they are using things like Omeka and PastPerfect Museum Software, does it really matter what tools we use if the sources themselves are one-sided? I think this is one problem with tools like Omeka. Archives and historians can say that they are molding themselves to the modern age of history in terms of presentation, but we still face the same problems of white-centric sources. With employees like you, hopefully historical sites will realize that they need to gather more diverse sources for their digital archives, rather than sticking to the same historical narrative.

Thank you, I’m pretty excited!

Pointing out that sentence was a very good observation, and it definitely requires further contemplation. When I first wrote it, I was vaguely amused and mildly annoyed at the thought of what type of documents I will be working with this summer. But you’re right to note that’s it’s a much more serious an issue than my side comment indicates.

In all earnestness, American archives have a history of keeping biased records. Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s noted in his book Silencing the Past that, “The very mechanisms that make any historical recording possible also ensure that historical facts are not created equal.” The process of storing information in the archives will silence voices that should be heard.

Now, I don’t know much about the history of Pinehurst or of what Tufts Archives considers important, but I do know that (according to Wikipedia) the town is 95.3% white. It’s possible that I’ll find out why that is the case as I work there this summer. Maybe I’ll discover that the town underwent gentrification, or maybe I’ll learn how the schools were integrated, or maybe I’ll learn about the people who were once enslaved. Or, unfortunately, maybe everything I learn will be completely white-centric because all other voices were silenced.

Thanks for following up on that! If the population is almost entirely white, the question could then become should the archives represent the community or should it introduce a wider and more diverse world to the community? Something to ponder and I am excited to see what you discover!

The job stuff was really interesting. It seemed like you enjoyed it.
The fact that you were able to do that was incredible, and that you already had some background using this type of archive.
Were you able to find anything interesting in what archives you were able to go through? How far back does the archive go? What were some of the challenges of working against such a backlog?

Congrats on this job Kaitlyn; I know that you will do well! That is very interesting to note that a lot of the documents are surround the rich white people who are golfing. Golfing is something that is of major importance to the people of Pinehurst. Do you know if they have any documents that are relating to people of color within that area? My great-aunt and her family lived in nearby Taylortown, which had more people of color. It may be interesting to figure out if there’s a separation between the races (at least historically) that kept some people out of the city-limits.

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