Open content, code and services

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By | Digital Developments

For many years the Wellcome Trust has been a leading advocate for open content. Back in 1996 the Trust was one of the original signatories of the Bermuda Principles, which agreed that human genomic sequence data should be placed in the public domain within 24 hours of generation. Some 10 years later the Trust become the first funder to mandate that the research outputs that arise from its funding must be made freely available. And, more recently it has developed an open data sharing policy, which sets an expectation that all data (including software) which is generated as a result of its research funding should be shared in a way that maximises the benefit to the public.

Not surprisingly, the Wellcome Library has also adopted this ethos of making content, data and code freely available. Here is an overview of some of the work we have been doing in this area.

Open Content

The Wellcome Library is in the midst of a large-scale digitisation programme. The UK Medical Library Heritage Project alone will result in the digitisation of around 50,000 book – around 15m pages. This material is freely available to read and download from both the Library website, and the Internet Archive. Moreover, because the overwhelming majority of items in this collection were published in the 19th century, we are making them available under the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark. This means that anyone can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, without asking permission.

We are also digitising our medieval manuscripts and are leading on a project to digitise mental health archives from some of the most important collections in the UK . In all cases content is freely accessible, though where the digitised material contains personal data, we ask users to agree to use the content responsibly and for research purposes only.

Conscious that some users need ready access to a complete corpus of content – perhaps to perform text and data mining analysis – we have started to provide additional download options for some of our material. This is most evident on London’s Pulse, which provides access to over 5800 Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports from the Greater London area. In addition to being able to search the text, and download individual images (and reports), we also provide the ability to download the raw text and tabular data in a variety of formats, including CSV, and XML. We also provide a one-click download option for users who want to work with the entire corpus of text/tables.

Open Code

Beyond making our digitised content freely available, we are also making available the software we have commissioned and built for the Wellcome Library website. To-date the biggest example of this is the Library’s digital “player” software – a deep zoom image viewer, which can also play video/audio and PDFs, for content which is both open and authentication controlled. The code is available from the Library’s Github repository and is made available under the MIT Open Source licence.

15th century manuscript in a viewer

A 15th century manuscript in the Universal Viewer.

In the 18 months or so that this code has been available, a number of institutions – most notably the British Library and the National Library of Wales – have taken it and developed it further. Now rebranded as the Universal Viewer (or UV), this piece of software is now fully IIIF-compliant (which means that it can be used to render any content which is described as an IIIF manifest).

The Library is now in the process of deploying the UV on its own website, so that it can support authentication – in line with the latest version of the IIIF standard – as well as play non-image based content (i.e. video, audio etc.).

The Library has also developed a timeline -application, to help libraries (and others) showcase their content in an innovative and engaging way.

London's Pulse timeline

London’s Pulse timeline.

The code for the timeline application and the Universal Viewer is available from the Library’s GitHub repository under the MIT open source licence.

Open Services

The Library provides a number of related services to support its “open” agenda.

Specifically, the Library’s Open Access Fund is available to pay the open access publishing costs for research papers, monographs and book chapters that result from research based on the our collections.

The Library – on behalf of the Trust and 26 other research funders – also oversees the ongoing development of the Europe PubMed Central repository. In addition to providing free access to over 30 million abstracts and 3.3 million full text documents, the repository also provides programmatic access – via Restful, FTP and OAI services – to the open access content.

We are also exploring the potential of developing a series of cloud-based, digital delivery services – focusing on the provision of image delivery, search services and annotation support – which we hope to provide as shared infrastructure to any cultural heritage organisation. We are currently developing a prototype service, which will be released in December 2015.  If you are interested in trialling  this service, please get in touch.

Further information

For more information about these services, and what tools we provided for digital library developers, please visit

Robert Kiley

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

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