Editor’s Note: This is the third of three posts on a new digital exhibit: ‘Translation… openeth the window to let in the light’: The Pre-History and Abiding Impact of the King James Bible. The first explored the project from a curatorial standpoint; the second looked at its strategic and project management aspects.
The platform we chose to use for the King James Bible Virtual Exhibit is Omeka, which is “a free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.” It’s well known to have a nice set of features that are typically found separately in content management systems, collections management systems, and archival digital collections systems. As a developer it was helpful to have such diverse functionality available to us upon installation. We were able to leverage the strengths of the platform instead of building features from the ground-up.
After installing a development version of Omeka, we then built a new default theme upon which to base the virtual exhibit. To do this we referenced other themes, read through the available documentation, and frequently made use of the Omeka forums. Our new default theme serves as a gateway to the King James Bible Virtual Exhibit, while also providing us with a way to view repository items outside of the exhibit context. We designed the default theme to have a good base of functionality, should we decide to create additional exhibits in Omeka.
The King James Bible Virtual Exhibit was itself created within the Exhibit Builder, which is a plugin “to develop online exhibits, or special web pages, that showcase a combination of digital objects in your Omeka archive with narrative text.” To provide a custom look and functionality we again built a theme, but specific to the King James Bible Virtual Exhibit and the Exhibit Builder plugin. In the future we’ll have the option of creating an exhibit specific theme or using the default theme, which affords us flexibility should we be short on development time.
As for the development process, we first wrote a set of user stories with input from all stakeholders in the project. These user stories informed the design and development decisions, so as to ensure that we provide a good experience to all visitors to the exhibit. It was important to give users choices in accessing and interacting with content, which resulted in our use of both a narrative structure and tangents to depart from the linear narrative. It was also decided that image zooming, page turning, and slideshows were must-have functionality in the exhibit.
All the stakeholders met monthly to discuss progress, while a core team met more frequently to ensure that development was occurring in a timely manner. Tasks, change requests, and problems were documented and tracked in JIRA, which ensured that what needed to get done actually got done. When changes were made they were committed via Git and then pushed up to the central code repository for deployment to the staging instance of Omeka. There they were tested by the team and only when the project was near completion were the code changes deployed to production.
Each of the themes was created upon the Foundation framework, which saved considerable development time. Foundation is responsive, which allows for an optimal viewing experience regardless of the device, whether it be desktop computer or mobile phone. In addition to Foundation, we also used several jQuery plugins to add additional functionality to the site: Cloud Zoom, fancyBox, Flexslider, and Isotope. These plugins helped us to do things which we otherwise wouldn’t have the time to do ourselves. We wrote all our CSS in SASS so as to add a bit of programming, and thus efficiency, into our stylesheets. Finally, the design was mostly made in-browser (with the help of Foundation), although Photoshop was used to mock up some design elements.
With the release of the King James Bible Virtual Exhibit, I can reflect upon its development and deem it a mostly rewarding experience. Omeka was at times challenging to develop for, but much of that can be attributed to learning the software. Only if the documentation were more thorough and the developer base larger, would it be easier to work with. Ideally the platform will be used more widely and those problems will correct themselves in time. Our experience with this project will serve us well in the future, whether we continue to build digital exhibits in Omeka or in another platform.