The current DS Catalog is built upon the shoulders of its predecessor. Established in 1997, the founders of Digital Scriptorium imagined a union catalog that could be easily maintained and updated through the application of digital technologies. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services, DS at its inception was a joint project of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley (under Prof. Charles Faulhaber) and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University (under Dr. Consuelo W. Dutschke). The plan was to digitize and make available on the World Wide Web catalog records and selected images from the two universities’ medieval and early Renaissance manuscript collections.
The University of California, Berkeley, provided the first home to the DS database, both in terms of managing the project infrastructure and devising its initial technology. From 2003–2011 DS was hosted at Columbia University, then returned to UC Berkeley in 2011. It remained there until 2022 when UC Berkeley changed its digital library architecture and could no longer support the application.
The technical innovations produced by the teams of both originating universities created a digital product based on a progressive, standards-based digitization policy. Originally using Microsoft Access to serve as a cross-institutional data collection tool, the DS database used SGML and later XML to aggregate and query the catalog data. When the platform returned to UC Berkeley, it was rebuilt with a custom software known as WebGenDB. WebGenDB was a non-proprietary, web-based interface for the underlying control of a database known as GenDB. GenDB housed descriptive, structural and administrative metadata, and output the metadata using the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) format. This data is no longer available on this website, but pdfs of the metadata and the images have been made available on the Internet Archive.
Since 1999, the database has grown to represent the collections of the Digital Scriptorium consortium, currently comprising over 35 member institutions throughout the United States. The consortium, which includes institutions with substantial manuscript repositories, such as the Huntington Library, the University of Texas at Austin, the New York Public Library, Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as smaller institutions with smaller but no less important collections such as the Grolier Club in New York, Conception Abbey in Missouri, and public institutions such as the Providence Public Library and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. By the time the redevelopment began in 2019, DS members had contributed catalog records for 8,390 manuscripts and 47,624 digitized images. While the current DS catalog does not host images, you can find these legacy images as well as copies of the original DS records here.
Read more about DS’s history and development here.