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Thing 20: Beautiful and Shareable: the International Image Interoperability Framework

What is IIIF and what you can do with it?

Digital Library Co-ordinator, Cambridge University Libraries

& Cambridge Digital Humanities Associate

IIIF can seem daunting and complex to understand, so the object here is to provide you with a starting point from which you can begin to explore what it is and what you can do with it.

So what exactly is IIIF?

IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) is a community that develops shared APIs, implements them in software and exposes interoperable content.

A map showing the location of known IIIF implementations and IIIF Consortium members.
Image courtesy IIIF

Still confused?

IIIF is a set of shared application interface specifications (APIs) for interoperable functionality in digital repositories – essentially these are ways for technologies to talk to each other and interact so that you don’t have to. Behind IIIF is a global community of libraries, museums, archives, software companies, and a host of other organisations (130 and counting), all working together to create, test, refine, implement and promote the IIIF specification and the tools they create. This flips the traditional model in which institutions created their own pots of digitised content relating to their collections and created their own platforms in which to find and display it.

A growing number of images, and increasingly audio/visual and 3D resources, from cultural heritage institutions around the world are available for use and re-use by scholars through IIIF. This framework and community facilitate a number of lightweight tools for:

· Discovering

· Viewing

· Comparing

· Analysing

· Assembling

· Annotating

· Transcribing

· Sharing

· Story telling

· Crowdsourcing

· Gamification

By using common protocols, all of this can be done regardless of the physical location of the content or repository. Having broken down the barriers of putting content online, and access to it, IIIF frees us up to focus on unlocking the cultural heritage that’s fundamentally carried by digital images.

Four image of Holbein's painting The Ambassadors, with specific details highlighted to reveal additional information in the image
Image: The National Gallery, London

IIIF technologies can be harnessed to unlock cultural heritage such as in this example exploring Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’ in great detail. Image: The National Gallery, London as displayed in Cogapp’s Storiiies application.

Viewing high resolution images over the web has in the past been resource heavy, but IIIF allows a user to explore large items such as this cloth map of agricultural land in Burma, which is over 4m x 2.5m, or the Mahabharata Scroll, which is 72 meters of richly decorated silk backed paper, all in great detail and with ease, we are provided with a new viewing perspective.

A number of viewing tools such as Mirador provide the user with an entirely customisable workspace. As you can see in the image below, we can load up the same page from four different copies of the Gutenberg Bible, one from Cambridge University Library, one from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, one from the Bavarian State Library and one from the Library of Congress.

A screenshot of a IIIF viewer showing two pieces of a manuscript virtually re-united by Biblissima. Images : Gallica - Bibliothèque nationale de France / BVMM (IRHT-CNRS) - Bibliothèque municipale de Châteauroux ; Manifest IIIF : Régis Robineau (Biblissima)

A screenshot of a IIIF viewer showing two pieces of a manuscript virtually re-united by Biblissima. Images : Gallica - Bibliothèque nationale de France / BVMM (IRHT-CNRS) - Bibliothèque municipale de Châteauroux ; Manifest IIIF : Régis Robineau (Biblissima)

One of the original drivers behind IIIF was the desire to reunite medieval manuscripts that had been vandalised - at one point in history it was fashionable to cut-out illuminations! As a result, the remaining manuscript is often in one location, and the resulting loose illuminations can be found all around the globe. Projects such as the Fragmentarium and Biblissima have been working to rectify this, as you can see from this demo that virtual reconstructs this French manuscript of the Grandes Chroniques de France.

There are all sorts of applications for this technology:


Even if you don’t completely understand everything about IIIF, you hopefully do now know it’s pretty awesome – The IIIF Community maintain this list of Awesome IIIF resources, so explore these along with the above examples and links. Have a play around with some of the tools and functionalities and think about how you might be able to use IIIF in your work. Even better, join in the IIIF Community and help shape the future of interoperable digital content. They are a fun and welcoming group which has been key to its success.

Further reading:

· IIIF Website:

· Exhibit: A IIIF storytelling tool from The University of St Andrews and created by Mnemoscene.

· Project Mirador: Open-source, web based, multi-window image viewing platform with the ability to zoom, display, compare and annotate images from around the world.

· Digirati use IIIF to support all sorts of cultural heritage projects:

· Cogapp’s Storiiies application:

· A more detailed introduction to the technical aspects of IIIF:

· Awesome IIIF: An extensive list of tools, applications, tutorials and demonstrations.

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Unknown member
Jun 20, 2022

Really cool, crowdsourcing or open-sourced photographic/audio/video pool about cultural heritage?


Unknown member
Jun 07, 2022

I think this has to do with CC: copy right, particularly with images.

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