Turning the Page

One of my favorite memories of a 2002 trip to England with my husband was a visit to the British Library at St Pancras. The St Pancras building, which opened in 1997, looks much too modern for my tastes, but the inside is a medievalist’s fantasy: the King’s Library, four levels of stacks enclosed in glass, holding works collected during the reign of George III, including a work particularly meaningful to me: Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed in 1476.

I was reminded of that trip because last week I caught an announcement on Resource Shelf about a public release of Turning the Pages 2.0, the software used by the British Library, developed by Armadillo Systems with support from Microsoft. In 2004, the digitized books at St Pancras were almost as mind-blowing to me as the King’s Library itself. I’d followed Kevin Kiernan’s Electronic Beowulf project, but seeing digitized versions of the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Magna Carta, and other great medieval works made me realize that This Was What I Wanted to Do With My Life.

Turning the Pages 2.0 is a nice system. It allows annotations and pan and zoom, as well as the 3D page-turning effect that is possibly its most memorable feature. Unlike the previous Shockwave version of Turning the Pages, it only runs on Internet Explorer on Windows Vista or Windows XP SP2 with the latest version of the .NET framework installed. For that reason (and the fact that it is a commercial, proprietary product), it may not be the right tool out there for all projects. Here are a few other products that should be considered:

3-D “page-turners”:

  • LuraTech offers LuraWave, a proprietary system for viewing and manipulating JPEG2000 images. It offers pan and zoom in addition to page turning animations.
  • Flash is the current standard for page-turn effects. To learn how to create a Flash page-turn applet, see the tutorial by Sham Bhangal, author of Flash Hacks.
  • Microsoft’s new Silverlight platform also offers page-turn effects. Microsoft is challenging Adobe’s dominance of the rich-media market, but it’s not clear whether they’ll succeed.
  • Adobe’s Digital Editions is an end-user solution, which moves the burden of technology from the digital library to the user (although digital libraries will want to test to make sure their books display correctly). You might want to look at the review on if:book, though, before choosing to use it (or forcing your users to).

Pan and Zoom:

  • Zoomify is a proprietary solution, but it offers a free option, Zoomify EZ. The Enterprise option adds annotation capabilities. I know that the folks at UNT’s Portal to Texas History are using it.
  • PowerWeb Zoom from Dart Communications is a proprietary Ajax-based solution; the company also offers a free version.
  • LizardTech’s GeoExpress supports both proprietary MrSID files as well as the free DjVu format, two different image compression solutions. MrSID works best with large images, such as maps, while DjVu works better with images containing text.
  • If you’re not put off by the name, GSV (Giant-Ass Image Viewer) offers a JavaScript alternative, with an open-source license. A Python library assists with image tiling.
  • Of course, there’s the PDF option, as well. It requires Adobe’s Acrobat or a PDF-reader, but pretty much everyone has a PDF plug-in nowadays.

I’m sure there are many more, but it’s late and I’m tired. Add a comment if you’ve tried other solutions or have a good example of any of these!


I am an independent digital collections and library technology consultant in Austin, TX.

One comment on “Turning the Page
  1. This post made my day. I’ve been looking for an open-source zoom solution for a year or so now, and GSV looks like exactly what I need!

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