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Digital Exhibits: Home

This guide will walk you through the basics of preparing your content for digital exhibition, and will give an overview of several applications that can be used to create exhibits.
Last Updated: Jul 12, 2024 10:00 AM


With digital scholarship become more widespread and better understood, people are eager to make their research available using digital scholarship tools. One way to make scholarship available is through digital exhibits. Digital exhibits can be used to create a book-like reading experience or to show collections of items in a more visual display. This guide will walk you through the basics of preparing your content for digital exhibition, and will give an overview of several applications that can be used to create exhibits. Note that this guide is not exhaustive, as there are many applications and tools to use to share digital scholarship. This guide is also not a step-by-step guide on how to use the applications. There are many wonderful such how-to guides online, and some of them will be linked to here. If you have suggestions for resources not listed here, please drop me an email.

Preparing Your Content for a Digital Exhibit

It is tempting to jump into a new application feet first to play around and kick the wheels. However, I urge restraint. It is important, before you start using any digital exhibit tool, to get your content organized. Make sure you know what you want in your exhibit, how you want it organized, and how you want it described. To that end, you will need to gather your media, make sure it's named properly, and describe it.

Name your project

What is your project going to be called? Use whatever rules are appropriate for naming something in your field. In this example, I'm going to use photographs of flowers from the gardens at The Cloisters in New York City. So, I will call it "Flowers at The Cloisters." To help with file naming, I will use the designator "flw" as a prefix for all file names associated with this project.

Name your files

Now that I know that I'm going to use "flw" as the prefix for all of my file names, I need to make sure that all of my files comply with that. I also want to make sure that there is something meaningful to me in the file name, so that I don't necessarily have to open the file to have an idea of what it contains. To that end, I'm going to put the common name of the flower next in the file name. Finally, I will add a number at the end, to distinguish different pictures of the same flower. Thus, my file naming convention will be:


flwnnn = item identifier - this is the same for every given type of flower
CommonName = the common name of the flower in the photograph
n = consecutive number of that type of flower in the collection. Note: if you plan to have more than 9 images of this item, you should use 2 digits.

And these are the file names for my photographs:



Note that this file naming format does several things: it shows that all of the files belong in the same collection; it organizes them alphabetically by common name; and it groups the same flowers together. I can see at a glance that I have six garden rose photos, and only one of Queen Anne's Lace.

Create Metadata

"Metadata" is information about an item. Any content item can, and should, have metadata. Indeed, digital files have technical metadata attached to them the second they're created. There are metadata schema for a variety of subjects and uses. Omeka and Scalar use Dublin Core standard, and Collection Builder's metadata template is based on best practices for interoperable Dublin Core metadata.

Your metadata should have at least the following information:

  • Unique identifier (the file name without the file extension is a good option)
  • Title
  • File name

Depending on your project, you will likely want to include more metadata, such as a description of the item, the creator, the date it was created, etc. Consult the schema you're using for more information on what metadata is required and what is optional.

For my "Flowers at The Cloisters" collection, I will use the following Dublin Core metadata fields:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Creator
  • Date
  • Rights
  • Format
  • Identifier

When you have decided what fields you want to use, create a spreadsheet with each field as a column header. I recommend using Google Sheets to avoid formatting and encoding errors that can often come up with Excel.

Each row of your spreadsheet should have the metadata for each item in your collection. In my collection, because I have multiple images for a given flower, and want the photos of each type of flower to be shown together, I am going to create one line of metadata for each flower instead of for each item. You can then specify in the online application which images you want associated with each line of metadata. If you make the Identifier the same as your file name, it will be easy to associate the proper files later. Note that each application will treat multiple files for a given item differently, so make sure to check the documentation for how to handle that.


Please be aware that anything you use that you didn't create yourself could be copyrighted by someone else. Things to keep in mind:

  • Copyright protection applies to original works
  • Copyright protection begins upon creation in a fixed medium
  • Everything you see on the web (fixed medium) is protected by copyright unless it is in the public domain, even if you don't see a © or an author/creator name. FREE ≠ copyright-free.
  • Copyright does NOT require registration with the U.S. Copyright Office

See our Copyright research guide for more information.

You can find openly-licensed materials online. These are materials that are protected under copyright to which the creator has assigned an open license granting users more privileges than are allowed under copyright itself. A good place to start searching for openly licensed images is openverse. You can also use Google and Flickr for image searching and limit your results to images with Creative Commons licenses.

Other Resources

Digitizing Collections: A guide for digitizing collections for access and preservation - research guide from atla. Soup-to-nuts guide for creating digital collections, including information on planning, metadata, and a round-up of digital collection platforms.

Choosing the Right Platform for Your Digital Archive by Stefano Morello

Stacy Snyder

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Stacy Snyder
420B Lockwood Library, North Campus