Omeka Content Management System

I have recently installed the Omeka content management system version 1.2.1. It is an open source CMS developed by the Center for History and New Media to serve the museums/archives community. It comes with support for Dublin Core metadata and is clearly designed with the item/exhibit model in mind.
It installed fairly easily and was very easy to set-up once installed. In terms of total ease of use it falls into the (largish) gap between Drupal and Wordpress.
There are a number of plugins available. Most of them focused on extending Omeka's metadata functionality (adding geocodes, annotating images) or on making it easier to get data in and out of the system. I do not know how large the Omeka community is, but the support forums are small relative to any of the more established content management systems.
I was able to create an exhibit with items in just a few minutes. As always, the time consuming part of the project will be adding content and metadata. Omeka lacks the flexibility and depth of functionality of Drupal and Drupal can be made to do everything that Omeka does. On the other hand what would have taken me a few hours in Drupal (install and configure specific modules) took me a few minutes with Omeka. I may change my mind after using Omeka for a real life  project, I would seriously consider using this CMS if I were creating an online exhibit or scholarly collection.
I'll link to my installation once I get enough content up there to be able to demonstrate Omeka's functionality.


Bank St. Bridge

bank st br1

Image from Ottawa Archives Code: AN-039265-001
Title: Lord Alexander, 17th Governor General of Canada, and Lady Alexander arrive in Ottawa. Alexander visited Canada many times after the end of his term as Governor General.
Date: 1955

Current image taken by me.


Wellington St. Ottawa then and now

Former American Legation. Former American Embassy. Former future portrait gallery.



American legation

Mash of City of Ottawa Archives image AN-SC-012603-001 (1959) and current image taken with iPhone.


750 Bank St. then and now.

The older photograph is from the City Archives. Code: AN-NP-029851 CA-003021 Date: 1954-01-30

The current one was taken with my iPhone.


750 Bank


Another Thing I learned at Doors Open

If you stop your bike on the three yellow dots, the light will turn to green faster. This is part of the Vehicle Detection system.


3 dots 002

It really works!

Ottawa Public Library Strikes Again

The Ottawa Public Library is a great service with some great resources. As I have noted before, it has recently updated its website and catalogue systems. The roll-out has not gone particularly smoothly. Instead of being off-line for two days the system was out of order for four. There are still issues with tracking holds and there remain other 'post-migration issues'.

I think that if any other organization was having this level of trouble I would be beyond frustrated. And yet I am not. I am predisposed to give the Library the benefit of the doubt. In fact, in my experience Library employees are more frustrated with the situation than I am.

It is pretty clear to me why this is. Everytime (every time) I have communicated with the library about their systems I have gotten a response. On Monday, I used the website form to complain about an odd error message I was getting. When I tried to renew a book I got a message that read "Privilege has expired". Today I got a reply that they had fixed the problem. The message has been changed to “Your card has expired, please renew it at your branch”.

By being such good communicators, the library has created a high-level of goodwill. It helps that the library starts with a mandate to help people and that they seem to take their mandate seriously. I hope for the library staff's sake that the system migration gets finished soon, but by communicating so well they have ensured that I will remain patient.

Glebe Collegiate

First attempt at mash-up between image of the Glebe Collegiate from Ottawa : the capital city of the Dominion of Canada (1922) and an image taken a few weeks ago.



GCI-mash 1

I think I'll take a few more pictures of Glebe Collegiate now, maybe with something more interesting in the foreground and try again.


Public Library: Online resources

I don't know if this qualifies as hidden, but it certainly is a gem. As well as books and DVDs the Ottawa Public Library offers online access to a large selection of online resources. Linked to from the homepage and from the 'Find an item' menu, anyone with a library card can access free and commercial databases organized by subject and format.

  • In the market for a new barbeque? Check out Consumer Reports.
  • Interested in current events around the world, search an archive of hundreds of newspapers.
  • Wonder why your car is making that odd noise, find service bulletins on your car (Auto Repair Reference Center).
  • Need homework help, try the eLibrary Elementary database.
  • Access a full-text search of the Globe and Mail from 1844 onwards!

Oh, I could go on and on.

If you don't know where to start, try the AskON online reference service, "A free information service for Ontarians, provided by Ontario's public libraries. Chat live with askON staff from Ontario libraries."

The possibilities are limitless.

Ottawa Canal Lay-by

Lately I've been looking at old maps and landscape pictures. It is fun to try and compare the older images to the Ottawa around us. With buildings and other built heritage it is sometimes possible to find current pictures that line-up pretty well with the old images. See a bunch of previous posts for examples.


Trying to line up current maps with old maps is possible because many Ottawa streets remain the same over time. This of course only works in the oldest parts of the city. As you can see by this post, the Ottawa river shoreline has changed quite a bit over the last 150 years, especially around Chaudiere and Rideau Falls. Until recently I have been assuming that the Rideau Canal has been static since construction finished in 1832. Not so. There was a lay-by to allow large ships to turnaround and pass near where the NAC is now.


The hub and spokes pg433 1904

The image above is from The Hub and Spokes pg.37 (1904). The image caption reads "Ottawa in 1860, showing proposed buildings."


Lay by 1876

Image from   Illustrated historical atlas of the county of Carleton (including city of Ottawa) Ont. (1879)



Atlas of Canada pg 38-39 1906-crop

In the image above from the (1908 Atlas of Canada pg. 38) the eastern half of the lay-by has been filled. I think I will return to this map later as it shows the Dow's Lake Causeway, another landmark gone away.


OPL A Brief Appreciation

I love the public library. My whole family are heavy library users. We are now downloading audio books, borrowing movies, graphic novels music CDs and even a few books. I will be attending the Library's Awesome Authors awards ceremony this week (sponsored by the Friends of OPL). A few weeks ago a started using the new Ottawa Public Library website.

While there are still a few technical glitches (that seem to be getting fixed a good rate) I am really impressed overall. This is a much improved site. The truest sign of this is the increased amount of time I am spending on the site.

The primary navigation scheme (top of page) seems to be based broadly on functional categories. This is a list of things to do on the site. Each menu item has a tagline that helps clarify what it represents. I probably would have buried the 'About OPL' content deeper and used that real estate for something more interesting but I understand how this content always finds its way to the top. Jan Harder's face is never more than two clicks away!

The body of the page is made up of six large content blocks. Each block, when selected reveals a sub menu. The submenu offers some pretty good clues as to the functionality it offers. I like this navigation style, although it took me a few visits to understand exactly how it worked. I may be slow. There are overlaps between the top navigation and the content blocks navigation. On some sites this would bother me more and I would probably would have merged the 'Using the Library' menu item and the 'Planning my trip to the library...' content block.

At the very top of the page is a search box to search the catalogue, website, or articles. At the same level are links to the catalogue, the computer sign up site, the kid's site and a feed back button.

All of this is accessible without logging in. Anyone with a library card can login which is where the fun starts. A partial list of new features:

  • Keep book lists                       
  • Organize lists by titles I've borrowed/titles I own
  • Easier access to a wealth of digital media and databases
  • Easier to see what I have out, when things are due, what I have on hold
  • Find and connect to other users with overlapping collections
  • Easy to add to my collection from the catalogue. Maybe impossible to export my lists out of the OPL system.

Even with the technical fixes to date there are a few frustrating quirks remaining.

  • The site seems to ask for a new login whenever the catalogue is accessed
  • I can't find aggregated ratings for items. It would be cool to see the highest rated or the most commented on items featured
  • You can earn community credits by rating, tagging or commenting on items.There isn't an explanation of what the community credits are good for. The help and FAQ pages are too generic. "Ask your Ask your librarian if your library is currently offering prizes for community credits." The help files should be for the actuall application the OPL has of the software.
  • While the software seems to support it, I still can't send myself reminders when items are coming due

In summary, the new site is a great improvement.

It shows that it is possible to have a navigation scheme that works well even if it isn't especially intuitive.

I hope the library continues to test the site and makes changes where warranted.

I hope that the technical glitches get fixed before users get frustrated with the new functionality.

I hope the OPL is getting good feedback on the site. They deserve it.


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