Making IIIF the norm for natural history collections

Roger Hyam - Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Scotland)

Presentation type: Lightning talk


SYNTHESYS+ is a European Commission funded programme that facilitates collaboration and network building between European natural history collections. It is concerned with both physical and virtual access to the 390 million specimens of plants and animals housed in participating institutions.

Task 4.3 of this project is to encourage adoption of IIIF as a unified way to publish images of natural history specimens. Currently institutions use a hotchpotch of different technologies to serve images or do not serve images at all. By January 2021 we aim to have ten exemplar European institutions publishing IIIF manifests for a few million specimens and for this to act as a catalyst for wider adoption in the natural history community.

The Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF) has already adopted a system of Linked Open Data compatible URIs for specimens. These follow the convention of providing 303 redirects to RDF-XML metadata via content negotiation. We have a limited vocabulary of recommended assertions to make in that metadata and plan to add a standardised way of linking to IIIF manifests for images of the specimen identified by the URI. We also hope to establish conventions to follow for linking back to the the CETAF-URI from the manifest as well as recommended labels to include in the IIIF manifest.

One tool under development is a resolver that will map a CETAF-URI to a IIIF Manifest making it easy to launch a IIIF viewer directly from a CETAF-URI. Another is a caching proxy that will create a IIIF end point for institutions that publish high resolution images but don’t have their own IIIF server.

Our overall goal is to develop as uniform a way as possible for specimen data and images to be published by participating institutions. This will enable the development of virtual thematic research portals that run across physical institutions. We hope to demonstrate this in action by the end of the project.


  • Linked Open “Usable” Data (LOUD) and IIIF,
  • IIIF Implementation Spectrum: large-scale or small-scale projects,
  • Interoperability in IIIF contexts


  • herbaria,
  • natural history collections,
  • natural history museums,
  • LOD