Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

07 December 2016

There's a new viewer for digitised items in the British Library's collections

This post is by Digital Curator Mia Ridge, who was a member of the new viewer project team. 

Users of the British Library's online catalogue may have noticed that some digitised collection items are now displayed in a new viewer. The new viewer, built with the 'Universal Viewer' software and community and using the IIIF standard for image interoperability, makes several new features available to readers.

New features include full-text search within collection items (where automatically transcribed text is available), navigation by thumbnail images, the ability to copy the direct link to share or bookmark an item. Usage terms are included in an expanded 'About this item' panel, and you can download selected items as images or PDFs. Some items can also be embedded in web pages, such as blog posts, teaching resources or news articles. Better zoom and rotate functions improve the experience of large-format items, and the viewer will soon provide a better 'responsive' experience for mobile and tablet users.

More collection items will appear in the new viewer over the next year, and it will eventually replace the many legacy viewers currently used across the Library's website. The project has involved dozens of people across the whole Library, working with external agencies and the wider open source community of Universal Viewer and IIIF contributors. Our thanks to them all!

We conducted usability reviews and testing as we developed the interface, which helped us prioritise improvements as we worked. Development work on the next version of the viewer will resume next year. In the meantime, launching the viewer now gives us a chance to see how it's used in the real world as readers take advantage of the new features.

Screenshot of the new viewer
Screenshot of the new viewer


Sample screenshot of an older item viewer
Sample screenshot of an older item viewer for comparison