Sample Assignment: Rare Books, Digital Collections


Sample Assignment: Rare Books, Digital Collections


A sample assignment using Omeka to explore rare books through digital collections (needs customizing for individual curricula: this is a general-purpose assignment)


Alexandra Bolintineanu
William Robins




8 hours in-class instruction and 20 hours of homework



Lesson Plan Text

Assignment:  Exploring Literary Thematics through Digital Collections



In this assignment, you build a digital exhibit to explore a literary object or theme in the text you are studying.  In other words, you create a website with a digital collection and exhibit, using the free, open-source content management platform Omeka.

  • The digital collection gathers and catalogues evidence about a literary theme:  quotations, sound files, manuscript pages, images.  Each item of your digital collection will be described systematically, like books are described in a library catalogue.
  • The exhibit is a digital essay; it weaves your evidence into a coherent narrative or argument.

This is a scaffolded assignment:  that is, you will produce several components at each stage, and each component builds on the ones before it-- like LEGO, except you get to build your own bricks.


Learning Goals

By the end of this learning module, you will have learned:

  • How to work with rare books and special collections:  from consulting librarians to locating finding aids and exploring letters, manuscripts, first editions, printed books with readers' marginalia...
  • How scholarly narratives can be assembled through digital collections
  • What Omeka is, and what content management systems are
  • What metadata is, and why metadata matters (with special reference to the Dublin Core metadata standard)
  • How to create your own Omeka site: building items, batch-uploading items, creating digital collections and building exhibits featuring scholarly materials


This assignment will strengthen your writing, your information literacy, and your visual literacy. 



  1. A spreadsheet with the items in your collection
  2. A digital collection
  3. A digital exhibit website
  4. The narrative for your digital exhibit website




For each component of the assignment, you participate in a workshop.  You learn how to use the digital tools and produce part of each component in a facilitated lab environment.  That is, we get together, learn and build together, troubleshoot together.





Understanding digital narratives

Before class:  Students examine a gallery of Omeka exhibits. 

During class: 

Together, students and facilitator learn about the basics of Omeka and navigate the gallery of Omeka exhibits.  In a shared Google doc, students collaboratively draw out the argument or narrative of each exhibit.

Creating a dataset with sample metadata

Before class:  Students collect, in a Word document, some notes on specific items they would like to include in their website:  photographs, sound files, interviews, digitized book pages.  This Word document must include notes on at least 5 specific items, with hyperlinks to online materials about these items.


During class:  Students learn about metadata and add sample data for a book into Dublin Core, according to these simplified guidelines.  Then students complete a spreadsheet of metadata for at least 5 items for their exhibit.

Research Week

This week has no in-class component.  Students do research in the library's special collections, assembling a 15-item spreadsheet with metadata for 15 Omeka items to illustrate their narrative.

Building the digital collection

Before class:  Students read “Introduction to Omeka” tutorial and bring their spreadsheet of 15 items.  All the fields of this spreadsheet must be filled in, following the instructions in the previous workshop. 


During class:  Using Omeka Gym sample data and exercises, students:

  • Get own Omeka site
  • Add one item
  • Add a collection
  • Batch-add multiple items

Digital Exhibit

Before class:  Students write a 200-word summary of their argument or narrative. 

During class:  Students view a sample exhibit and then create a digital exhibit with five Pages (sections), exploring their chosen item under the following headings:  the Book itself; the Author (or creator); the Readers (or audience); the Subject Matter or World (what the book or resource is about); and the Genre.


Students write the story of their book and incorporate the story into their Omeka exhibit. 

 (Students work individually; this need not be an in-class session.)





Alexandra Bolintineanu and William Robins, “Sample Assignment: Rare Books, Digital Collections,” Omeka Gym, accessed January 27, 2023,