Moving the Wellcome Library to the cloud

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By | Digital Developments

Robert Kiley, Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Library, explains why the Library is embarking on an exciting new project to prototype a cloud-based digital library platform. If successful, the platform will be made available to other cultural heritage organisations to use.

As the scale of the Library’s digitisation programme continues to grow – we have already digitised over 16m pages; a figure which will grow to over 30m by 2018 – we need to ensure that we can continue to deliver this content in an efficient and an effective way. Using cloud-computing services to deliver content is an obvious solution, and one increasingly adopted by organisations throughout the world.

Beyond this simple requirement there is a much bigger ambition to position the Wellcome Library as a pioneer in the development of a new, interoperable, fully-scalable, digital library platform and, crucially, to make this platform available for other cultural heritage organisations to use.

As a first step to realising this ambition, the Wellcome Library will – with the help of our development partners Digirati – develop a prototype Digital Library Cloud Services (DLCS) platform. This will serve to demonstrate that the proposed platform is viable, and enable the Library to calculate what it might cost for other organisations to make use of these services.

The prototype

The focus of the prototype will be to expose all the Library’s images as IIIF Image API endpoints and deliver these to our users via the Cloud.

IIIF is a way of describing an image in a standards-based way, which allows the image to be displayed in a dazzling, deep-zoom environment with any IIIF-compliant viewer. The real strength of IIIF however, is that images that are described in this way are fully interoperable. To give a simple example, if one library held part of a manuscript (and had digitised that part), and another library held another part (which had also been digitised), then an IIIF manifest could be created to bring the two parts together in a single viewing environment (even though the images would be delivered by two different libraries).


The Wellcome Library’s prototype will also see the deployment of the Universal Viewer (available on Github)– replacing our current media player – though developed further to ensure that it can handle video, audio and other non-image material. The Universal Player will also support all the permissions and login scenarios we require.

 Commodity services for cultural heritage digitisation

Once we have proved the viability of the platform, the next stage will be to develop additional services, such as OCR indexing and searching (based on the ALTO standard), annotation storage (based on the W3C Open Annotation standard) and an easy to use set of APIs.

We will also develop a discovery layer – that makes use of the commodity services described here – for those institutions that may not already have a discovery platform to enable them to showcase their digital content.

With access to a set of core commodity services – the ‘plumbing’ that supports the delivery of digital content –cultural heritage organisations can minimise the development and IT costs that typically bedevil digitisation initiatives. The net result of this will be the availability of more digital content, presented in standards-based environment, and delivered at a lower unit cost to the sector.

Further information

More information about the DLCS can be found on Github. A Google Group called wellcome-dlcs has also been set up, where regular updates will be posted. Please join this group is you are interested in receiving updates.

Robert Kiley

Robert Kiley is Head of Digital Services at the Wellcome Library.

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