Making Royal Pavilion and Museums’ Digital Collections More Accessible with the Universal Viewer

Edward Silverton
Apr 1, 2020 · 4 min read

At Mnemoscene we are passionate about giving our clients and collaborators the tools they need to engage with the audiences they want to reach. As long-term supporters and developers of the Universal Viewer (UV) project, a widely adopted viewer for Cultural Heritage content, we see it as a powerful method for GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) organisations, both large and small, to engage a wider audience with their collections online.

The UV is the chosen solution for large national institutions such as the British Library and BFI, and is integrated with several enterprise Digital Asset Management Systems. We are excited about bringing the power of this open platform to smaller local organisations.

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We were approached by Royal Pavilion & Museums (RPM) in Brighton to help them make their digital collections more easily shareable and accessible online — something which became even more important in the ensuing Covid-19 lockdown. Their catalogue was available via an existing solution, but they were interested in leveraging the IIIF Image API via the UV to allow their high resolution tiff images to be zoomable, and embeddable — like a YouTube video — wherever they wanted.

As participants in the British Library’s Save our Sounds initiative, RPM were already familiar with the UV, and recognised the benefits of using IIIF for sharing their high resolution photographs, paintings, lithographs, and engravings. IIIF has recently grown to support audiovisual content, which was also of interest, and there is a 3D Community Group which is working on ways of supporting 3D content.

The Goal

Their goal was to create a new service that allowed RPM to easily import content from their existing Collection Management System as CSV files, and for it to then be accessible and embeddable as IIIF in the UV. The API should apply RESTful practices, allowing imported records to be filtered by category, department, creator, date created, etc. All uploaded content was to be made available under a CC0 Public Domain license or as CC BY-SA Attribution-Share Alike as appropriate.

The Solution

At Mnemoscene we have been working with an exciting new open source CMS solution called Strapi. Strapi is what’s known as a “headless” CMS. It makes no assumptions regarding how you will store or present your data, providing a generic admin interface for whatever RESTful (or GraphQL) API you want to create.

With a small amount of modification it was possible to extend Strapi to allow dragging-and-dropping CSV outputs from RPM’s existing Collection Management System to create records in the new system. Because we were working with tiff images (ideal for preservation and IIIF tile sources), we needed to extend Strapi’s React-based interface to display them using a HTML5 Canvas element.

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We chose serverless-iiif, an AWS Lambda function wrapping Libvips, to generate the IIIF image tiles. Many thanks to Michael Klein at Northwestern University for his help adapting this library to work in different AWS regions. We are excited about the possibility of using more Lambda functions in future for other IIIF-related tasks!

To make it as easy as possible for RPM to find objects to embed in their websites, we made a IIIF Explorer web component using StencilJS. This pages through their public IIIF Collection allowing them to filter items by title.

In addition to zoomable high-resolution images, we added support for 3D objects using Google’s powerful open source Model Viewer. We’re quite fond of this Green Finch from the Booth Museum of Natural History created by Sophie using photogrammetry.

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The possibilities presented through combining the UV with Strapi are very exciting. We can foresee adding the ability to structure your collections into sub collections, sequencing images to represent books (already supported in the UV), and leveraging the Strapi api to create queries such as “find all public domain Lithographs in the Fine Art department by the Artist John Bruce published between these dates.”

IIIF isn’t something reserved for national institutions, it’s accessible to any organisation with a collection to share.

RPM will be blogging content from their new API at http://closelook.brightonmuseums.org/
Follow them on twitter to stay up to date!

We really enjoyed working on this project and are very proud of the outcome. IIIF isn’t something reserved for national institutions, it’s accessible to any organisation with a collection to share.

The UV has a supportive and sustainable community. Join here to meet them and take the next step towards opening up your collections.

Mnemoscene

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