Open sourcing the library

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By | Digital Developments

What does it feel like to interact with a digital version of a book? How can we replicate the experience of working with physical collections – on the web? What features will enhance a researcher’s experience of using digital collections? What if we could build tools with Wellcome Library in mind, but make any software we develop available to other libraries under an open source licence?

We asked these big questions, along with innumerable others, during the development of the Wellcome Library’s ‘digital asset player’ and interactive timeline. Now we are offering the player and timeline software to you. The software is free to use, adapt and improve upon, and available on GitHub. (If you’re new to open source, you can read more about it here).

About the player

Over the past two years, the Library’s digital team has been working with our development partners, Digirati, to build a tool for viewing digitised objects. We needed a viewer for:

We also needed it to play audio files, like this 1890 clip of Florence Nightingale. What we came up with is a digital player that can be used to sequentially display and navigate any format.

Here is an example of a player embedded in another website:

The player:

  • plays objects in a sequence: cover-to-cover, page-by-page
  • navigates by page, image or thumbnail, or even the index
  • offers deep zoom
  • works on all devices, including mobile
  • includes an embed code for each item, to encourage further distribution of the object on blogs, other websites, or even VLEs (virtual learning environments).

Digirati have built a step-by-step technical guide to modelling your data, getting your artifacts into the player and delivering the images via an image server.

About the timeline

Along with the player, we’ve also created a timeline application to explore some of the themes drawn from the collections, namely the History of Genetics and the Health of London timelines.

The timeline software was made open source in 2013. The code was used very effectively by Edinburgh Book Festival to build its 30-year anniversary timeline.

What now?

That’s up to you! We are keen to find out how and where you’ve used either the player or timeline for your own digital collections. Meanwhile, we’ll be working to make continuous improvements to the Wellcome Library’s user interfaces, based on usability testing and feedback from researchers.

If you have any questions about player development, drop us a line here in the comments or by emailing

Jenn Phillips-Bacher

Jenn Phillips-Bacher

Jenn Phillips-Bacher is Web Manager at Wellcome Library, where she spends her days working on projects to improve the Library's online user experience. Jenn studied Medieval History and Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then went on to become a librarian. She can be found on LinkedIn and Tumblr.

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