The Library at University College Dublin has, for more than a decade, been creating digital content that is disseminated via UCD Digital Library. Since the majority of digital file assets consist of images—high-resolution TIFF images with lossless JPEG2000 and lower-resolution static JPEG derivatives—the emergence of the International Image Interoperability Framework immediately attracted our attention. It offered a common-sense approach to image interoperability that proposes to address technical and usability challenges that inhibit both service development and scholarly interaction with digital content.
UCD faced challenges typical with providers of digitised books, maps, and other cultural heritage information: use of older technologies for dissemination of deep-zooming images (djatoka, whose OpenURL-based approach to interoperability lost lustre with the domination of approaches based on REST); challenges in delivering paged documents, including page turning and document navigation functionality, as well as associating OCR content with page images; a large-scale transcription project based on bespoke technologies; and more. IIIF and its growing community of developers promised solutions for all of these issues, and as they have been delivered over the past five years, we’ve adopted them: IIIF Image API (Loris), IIIF Presentation, and IIIF Search; IIIF authentication is next on the development roadmap.
Figure 1. IIIF search via UniversalViewer
Exploiting the potential for interoperability offered by IIIF is where we have set our sights for current and future development. In 2016, we seized an opportunity to work with Nuno Freire and Pierre Edouard-Barrault at Europeana to work on a case study of reporting our IIIF content to Europeana. The project was experimental (also involving the National Library of Wales), evaluating approaches and testing ideas. But it also has succeeded in a practical sense, delivering new content from UCD and its partner organisations in Ireland to Europeana. It has catalysed other improvements as well—including creation of a microservice to deliver EDM metadata via IIIF manifests, and the upgrading of local sitemaps to use components of the ResourceSync framework. (We’ll next be testing with Europeana an approach to reporting video content via sitemaps and the EDM microservice.)
Figure 2. UCD content in Europeana via IIIF
Extending interoperability more aggressively to end-users is UCD Library’s next major objective. UCD Library supports a major document transcription project in collaboration with Fiontar at Dublin City University, hosted at http://duchas.ie. Underway for several years, it uses bespoke technologies for engaging end-users in document transcription, and has been extraordinarily successful in the degree of public engagement it has fostered.
Figure 3. Screenshot from duchas.ie transcription site
As we look towards the future, we see IIIF as a foundational technology in such projects exposing our content to scholarly communities and the public at large. The integrated annotation capabilities of the Mirador image viewer will be invaluable in enabling annotation of more than 70,000 images from the Irish National Folklore Collection, due to come online in 2017. And as IIIF client capability becomes increasingly integrated with tools such as Scribe, FromThePage, or Europeana’s transcription tools, we see vast potential for additional transcription projects that focus on structured textual documents, whether printed or manuscript.
IIIF does not come without its challenges. For library staff accustomed to working with the ubiquitous standards of the Library community, there is a learning curve that is partly specific to IIIF, but which more generally has to do with re-orienting one’s thinking to web standards, rather than library standards for interoperability. Data representation with JSON/JSON-LD is one dimension of this; understanding Web Annotations is another, which is crucial to understanding the general direction of web-based document transcription and annotation; and there are the complexities of web messaging and notifications that the IIIF community continues to grapple with.
The challenges also extend to how new technologies that are driven by IIIF and web standards integrate with infrastructures based on older library practices. In UCD’s case, we digitise printed documents and capture OCR’d text in METS/ALTO format, indexed by Solr. Integrating the technologies supporting this approach with IIIF Search was a straightforward exercise. But what are the implications of deploying an or Web Annotations-compliant annotation store for data management and information retrieval, and especially for maintaining a coherent user experience? How do we make the old and the new work together harmoniously and sensibly?
Figure 4. Imagining an evolved systems architecture at UCD Digital Library
Five years ago, when we became aware of the concept of the International Image Interoperability Framework through Tom Cramer’s presentation at the Coalition for Networked information, we knew it had potential to be transformative. But as we look at our own work during the past two years and the development agenda for the near term, we at UCD can say that we simply did not anticipate the degree to which it would shape our overall agenda. As our technical infrastructure develops, we see it opening new doors not only to interoperability, but also to broader engagement with UCD’s academic community, its heritage repositories, our growing range of partners in the Irish cultural heritage community, and the public at large.