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Consortium to 'standardise sharing of image-based resources'

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Leaders from eleven research libraries, national libraries, and nonprofit image repositories have formed the International Image Interoperability Framework Consortium (IIIF).

Until now, many of the Internet’s image-based resources have been locked up in silos, with access restricted to custom-built applications. The IIIF supports uniform display of images of books, maps, scrolls, manuscripts, musical scores and archival material from participating institutions for display, manipulation, measurement and annotation by scholars and students working individually or in groups around the world.

The IIIF initiative was conceived on the back of a napkin at a Cuban restaurant in Palo Alto, California at a dinner of technologists from the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University, the British Library and Stanford University Libraries.  Now the 11 institutions have committed resources and officially formed the International Image Interoperability Framework Consortium, which will oversee the ongoing development of the IIIF technology as well as the growth of the community.

Joining Oxford, the British Library and Stanford as part of the consortium are Artstor, Die Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (The Bavarian State Library), Cornell University, La Bibliothèque nationale de France (The National Library of France), Nasjonalbiblioteket (The National Library of Norway), Princeton University Library, Wellcome Trust and Yale University (Yale Center for British Art, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library).

Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, said: 'The advent of digital images and the mass digitisation of heritage items – from ancient manuscripts and medieval maps to early photographs and 19th century newspapers – has transformed the ways in which scholars are able to research and collaborate across geographical and institutional boundaries. Coming together to form the IIIF Consortium will enable us to create tools and services for a new generation of online resources, advancing both knowledge and mutual understanding.

'These tools will improve the research experience, enabling users around the world to access multiple digitised sources in a richer and much more coherent manner, including being able to annotate, describe, link and embed images, as well as viewing items held in different institutions simultaneously via a single interface – the holy grail of interoperability.

'The standards developed by the IIIF Consortium will also enable the development of tools by others, unlocking a whole range of creative responses to the challenges and potential of image-based digital research.'

The consortium aims to reduce inefficiency and needless redundancy born from incompatibility in the current image delivery ecosystem. The framework includes two application program interfaces (APIs). The Image API provides access to the image content and technical descriptions. The Presentation API gives just enough structural and descriptive information about the image's context to appropriately render it in an arbitrary, web-based, viewing environment.

While IIIF’s origins are in libraries, the community is rapidly expanding to include museums, archives and image services of all types, creating new opportunities for exchange and collaboration across sectors. In addition to the founding consortium members, 20 other institutions are contributing to discussions on specifications for interoperability and providing both open source and commercial implementations of the APIs currently available.