Digital Publishing with Scalar and Omeka

Screenshot from Margo Hobbs, Contemporary Art Spring 2016 Scalar Book Project

When Margo Hobbs, Associate Professor of Art, was frustrated with the limits of available textbooks for her Contemporary Art course, she had the idea to engage her students in researching, producing, and collaboratively publishing a a digital textbook for on the topic.  For this Spring 2016 project, Margo’s students explored global contemporary art since 1989 through a variety of digital and openly available online resources and tools.  Together with Margo, they learned to use Scalar, a free, open source authoring and publishing tool, collaboratively generating a digital textbook published to the web.  The platform offers a great degree of flexibility in design and structure, making it easy to produce multi- and non-linear paths within a multimedia project. Scalar was a good choice for Margo’s Contemporary Art project, because it can showcase images as well as text, and you can build items that annotate or comment upon other items.

The possibility of creating multiple pathways and non-linear multimodal narratives within Scalar was ideal for a collaborative student project in the interdisciplinary RJ Capstone Seminar. In S

Screenshot from RJ Fellows Spring 2015 Community Connections Scalar Book Project
Screenshot from RJ Fellows Spring 2015 Community Connections Scalar Book Project

pring 2015, the project, “Many Ways of Connecting,” asked students to reflect upon and document the changing relationship between Muhlenberg and the wider community of Allentown, and to explore this relationship along multiple dimensions. In their Scalar publication, students were able to represent the diverse and sometimes intersecting avenues for connecting with Allentown that, as students, shaped their experiences at Muhlenberg.  Their project highlights the multi-linear pathways through which students participate in community-based learning, service, engagement, and activism.

After building the digitized Robert C. Horn Papyri Collection in Shared Shelf, Muhlenberg archivist Susan Falciani was interested in extending the collection into a platform that would make these resources more public and accessible, especially for use in teaching and learning.  Omeka afforded her the ease and customization necessary to build a rich, searchable collection of the objects in this collection.  It required no HTML knowledge, though she was able to rely on colleagues with CSS skills for help with design customization.  All said, Susan produced this exhibit in about 20 hours time.  Her presentation on the project at the meeting of the Council for Independent Colleges Consortium on Digital Resources for Teaching and Learning, is here.

Screenshot of the Robert C. Horn Papyri Collection

In this Tech Tuesday, we explore both of these open-source, free, and widely used tools for digital scholarship. We will touch on some of their affordances, show examples produced with each tool, and consider some of the reasons for choosing one or the other depending on the type of project faculty are interested to produce and the kinds of materials to be integrated.  Omeka is used widely to build digital exhibits, collections, and archives that are image-rich, with the key feature that it integrates Dublin Core metadata schema for describing items within an Omeka site. This standardized vocabulary means that data can easily be moved into and shared with other systems.  Scalar is a media-rich digital publishing platform allowing multiple authors to add and annotate text, image, audio and video elements, and connect those elements in multi- or non-linear narrative paths. The annotation feature in Scalar is particularly rich–anything in a Scalar book can be annotated in just about any format.  Beyond annotating images with text, text can be annotated with audio or video, video can be annotated with audio, and so forth.

If you are unable to attend in person, we are offering a live stream of the session through Zoom.  Please sign in to the link below before the session begins at 8:30.  A moderator will be there to share any questions you may have with the presenters. Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, or Android:

Resources on Digital Pedagogy and Digital Publishing

Jen Jarson, Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian and Social Sciences Subject Specialist, has curated the following resources to provide additional information on these featured tools, and in particular, to highlight their affordances for developing digital literacies and pedagogy.  If you have discipline-specific information literacy questions related to Tech Tuesday, please contact Jen at

More on Scalar

Scalar Users Guide

Scalar in the Classroom (an interview with Anita Say Chan and Harriett Green of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Digital Publishing in Scalar, by Mo Pozel 

Scalar in the Classroom (A Workshop at Whittier College)

Scalar for Research, Teaching, and Learning, by Jentery Sayers

Webinar on Teaching and Research with Scalar (HASTAC)

Examples of Scalar projects:

A Photographic History of Oregon State College, Keenan Ward, Korey Jackson, Jane Nichols, and Larry Landis

Our Bodies, Ourselves and Seventies Body Culture, by Cathy Kroll

Bad Object 2.0: Games and Gamers, by Steve Anderson

Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers, by Matt Delmont

“Ethnic” Los Angeles (A collaborative book by students in Asian American Studies at UCLA)

More on Omeka