Developing an IIIF image infrastructure for the VKC ecosystem

The Flemish Art Collection (VKC) and meemoo (formerly PACKED for this project) have been working together since 2016 to create a shared data hub for (art) museums. This data hub ensures that data from the various affiliated museums’ collection management systems can be re-used via the web. On top of this, since the autumn of 2018, we’ve been developing – together with VKC, the Rijksmuseum and other organisations – an IIIF image infrastructure test set-up. From 2020 onwards, the VKC ecosystem was further expanded in relation to various use cases which we linked to the meemoo infrastructure, among other things.

What is IIIF?

IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework) is a set of shared application programming interface (API) specifications, designed by university libraries, heritage institutions, museums and software companies to make images accessible and shareable via the internet. Various cultural heritage institutions have implemented IIIF to unlock their collections, and there are lots of experiments taking place around making images available and re-usable via IIIF.

Phase 1: July 2018 - June 2019

Making images and metadata accessible online

With the development of the data hub and the IIIF test set-up, we want to create a flexible and open information system. The aim of the IIIF application is to make digitised images and associated metadata accessible via a number of online services. This means people and organisations can easily re-use the content in their own applications – such as museum websites, visualisations in the public space, mobile applications and technical research – with most up-to-date content always available in a cost- and time-efficient way.

Exploration and component selection

Together with VKC, we explored various technical components to build the IIIF infrastructure. The existing VKC infrastructure was also taken into account when selecting the components. Next, in the spring of 2019, we took our first steps – together with VKC and other image partners – towards a smooth, efficient and automated method for unlocking the image content. We took the (technical) recommendations (the so-called model architecture) from the Blueprint for distributed image management (link in Dutch), which we had drawn up previously, into account for this.

The implementation of the IIIF specifications in online services was central to this section. These open specifications allow the standardisation and automation of interactions between end consumers and the applications in which images are visualised, as well as the communication with the underlying online services. We looked at various technical components for building the IIIF infrastructure. The choice of components needs to simplify the future image infrastructure management.

  • We opted for ResourceSpace – software that’s already used by a number of VKC partners to unlock their images – as our ingest component. ResourceSpace is a DAM (digital asset management) system that can be used to include the images in the test set-ups with associated metadata linked from the data hub;

  • We selected Cantaloupe as our IIIF image server because it can retain metadata embedded in the images in the derived copies. Cantaloupe ensures images are exchanged via the IIIF Image API;

  • An Image hub was developed to unlock the images and their metadata via the IIIF Presentation API (via IIIF manifests). This web application was created in the same framework as the data hub (PHP/Symfony);

  • The IIIF manifests will be displayed in the Universal Viewer – an image viewer that can display IIIF manifests.

Together, these components formed the IIIF test set-up. Testing took place using 200 images from VKC partner museum collections. The adapted version of the art hub now unlocks images via the Universal Viewer through a link with the Image hub.

Phase 2: October 2020 - September 2021

In the second phase of the project, we continued to develop the Flemish Art Collection (VKC) ecosystem based on various use cases. We contributed mostly to the first part of the project.

Automated exchange of images and metadata between VKC and meemoo

We connected the VKC and meemoo ecosystems to automatically exchange images and metadata between the two organisations. To enable this, we built an IIIF Image endpoint to exchange artworks from VKC-affiliated museums whose images are available on This involves image content from Mu.ZEE, Musea Brugge, KMSKA (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp), MSK (Museum of Fine Arts Ghent) and M Leuven.

Our role in exchanging the images was to perform an analysis, outline an architecture, build the IIIF Image endpoint and draw up a workflow to send images from the meemoo archive system to the IIIF server. This workflow automatically cuts out colour charts, among other things. See the workflow and endpoint architecture here (link in Dutch).

We implemented the data hub to exchange metadata. Artworks with images on are managed by museums who therefore have the most up-to-date metadata for them. The data hub implemented by meemoo ensures that this metadata flows from VKC’s collection management systems into meemoo’s archive system automatically.

Previously, created their own metadata for images. We performed a one-off export of the valuable metadata we created, to make sure we didn’t lose any of it, and provided this dataset to VKC.

Experiment with IIIF annotations and multilayer images

In another part of project, VKC experimented with a number of IIIF applications, such as IIIF annotations and displaying multilayer images. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) helped with this and together they developed a condition report tool based on IIIF annotations. KMSKA also supplied content for displaying the multilayer images (in a multilayer viewer).

Hybrid collections

In phase two, the VKC ecosystem used fine art collections to investigate and test whether it is also suitable for other types of more hybrid collections. Hybrid collections can include fine art, applied art, precious metals and textiles, among other things. Musea Brugge has several of these hybrid collections, so partial collections from the Groeninge Museum, Het Hospitaalmuseum (Saint John’s Hospital Museum) and O.L.V. ter Potterie (Our Lady of the Pottery museum) were used as test cases.

Create an IIIF metadata manual

VKC wants to use the metadata manual to offer accessible IIIF guidance to collection management institutions. It provides a number of examples to help these organisations get started with unlocking their digitised items via IIIF.

“Reinaert de Vos voor de vierschaar van Koning Nobel den leeuw. Een nuttig en vermakelyk verhaal voor groote en kleine kinderen. Naverteld en uitgegeven door Stijn Streuvels”, Gustave Van de Woestijne, CC0

Do you have a question?
Contact Nastasia Vanderperren
Expertise Officer
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