Qalamos Genesis

The early days at Leipzig

In the second half of 2005, Professor Dr. Verena Klemm of the Oriental Institute at Universität Leipzig (OIL), in cooperation with Dr. Christoph Mackert, then Deputy Head of Special Collections at Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig (UBL), developed the idea of creating a database prototype for detailed cataloguing of the Arabic, Persian and Ottoman manuscripts at UBL.

As technical partner, Universitätsrechenzentrum Leipzig (URZ) supports the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft funded project, following the existing successful cooperation in the Papyrus project Halle-Jena-Leipzig involving developers around Jens Kupferschmidt since 2002.

The pilot project for database development and digital presentation of Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig's newly acquired Arabic and Persian manuscripts was conducted from June 2006 to March 2008. In this context, the MyCoRe framework, originally developed for the Papyrus project by URZ, Bibliothek Essen and ThULB Jena since 2000, was used for the second time in Leipzig. The data model for the manuscripts was based on the long-term project "Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts" (KOHD) at Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Dr. Thoralf Hanstein, who was still employed at OIL at the time, provided further ideas and concepts.

Screenshot of the project IslamHS at Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig

The Refaiya project and the development of IslamHS

After successful completion of the pilot project, Professor Verena Klemm developed a new concept to catalogue and research the Damascene family library Refaiya (ar-Rifāīya) which Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig had purchased in 1853. In this project, also funded by DFG, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Johannes Schneider, UBL Director since 2006 and Prof. Dr. Thomas Fuchs, Head of Special Collections, further enhanced her existing team. Implemented between October 2008 and May 2013, the project was built on the code base of the pilot project. In particular, the codicological expertise of Beate Wiesmüller and the international cooperation contributed by Dr. Stefanie Brinkmann (OIL) as part of her activities at The Islamic Manuscript Association (TIMA) significantly improved the data model and increasingly led to further optimisation of the collection criteria and their terminology.

In the course of the Refaiya project, the extensive full text collection of owner and reader entries by Dr. Boris Liebrenz for Leipzig, Gotha, Berlin and other collections enabled the development of the manuscript note module which is now also part of Qalamos.

Between October 2012 and June 2015, further DFG funding following the Refaiya project facilitated a detailed cataloguing project performed by Beate Wiesmüller which comprised the remaining holdings of the approximately 1800 Arabic, Persian and Ottoman manuscripts available at UBL. In the meantime, thanks to the ongoing commitment of URZ, both the framework MyCoRe and the application based on it had developed into a modular system that was also well suited for other IslamHS − as the project was called at the time − projects.

Screenshot of the project family library Refaiya


In 2010, the successful cooperation between URZ and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin began. The Orient-Digital and Turfan-Digital applications were based on the migration of a DOS database containing essential holding records on all classmarks that had been developed by the former Head of the Oriental Department, Dr. Hartmut-Ortwin Feistel. Orient-Digital went online in 2013 and was continuously developed until the data migrated to Qalamos.

This cooperation also included the development of the book art module dedicated to the illustrations and illuminations of the manuscripts. Financially supported by Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, this module is now part of Qalamos.

Screenshot of the database Orient-Digital

Going international

In the years 2008 and 2009, Professor Dr. Eckehard Schulz (OIL) and Dr. Thoralf Hanstein initiated a cooperation with Indonesische Nationalbibliothek and various collections in the regions of Banda Aceh and Central Java that enabled direct data entry in Indonesia via an extension of the application hosted in Leipzig. The project, funded by Auswärtiges Amt, involved two trips to the Indonesian collections, by Gerald Hennig (URZ) and the UBL conservator Jörg Graf, as well as training provided to Indonesian colleagues in Leipzig. The data is part of Qalamos.

In 2013, a further effort to internationalise the IT solution was made. Dr Stefanie Brinkmann and TIMA introduced another application containing the same data models allowing remote data entry in internationally scattered, small collections at risk. In 2014 and 2015, we presented our solution at conferences in Cambridge. Unfortunately, TIMA discontinued this project in 2021 for political and organisational, but also Corona-related reasons.

Screenshot Nusantara-project

KOHD in pursuit of a solution

Inspired by the success of the existing applications, in 2014 a meeting took place with Professor Tilman Seidensticker, the project manager of Katalogisierung Orientalischer Handschriften in Deutschland (KOHD), a long-term project run by Akademie in Göttingen. At the time, KOHD considered switching to digital cataloguing and decided on the MyMss solution (the new name of IslamHS) due to the positive experiences with the project group. As a result, since 2016 KOHD-Digital has been part of the large pool of digital catalogues of non-European manuscripts with the same data model. After completion of the KOHD project on 31 December 2022, the data will be transferred to Qalamos. Because of the uniform use of current MyCoRe versions and the adaption of the corresponding application modules, full compatibility of all sub-projects and smooth data transfer is ensured.

Screenshot of the project KOHD-online

Further applications

In addition to the applications described so far, URZ has also administered the manuscript database for Forschungsbibliothek Gotha since mid-2015. Meanwhile, the data concerning Islamic manuscripts has also been integrated into Qalamos.

An extension for the catalogue of Samaritan Pentateuch manuscripts of the LEUCOREA Lutherstadt Wittenberg in cooperation with Theologische Fakultät Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg is still in operation. The data models are also fully compatible with the current Qalamos version, enabling an eventual data transfer to Qalamos.

Screenshot of Samaritan Pentateuch manuscripts

In search of shared solution

Already in 2018, users being aware of material and IT restrictions agreed on the importance of establishing a uniform application to include all previously collected datasets as well as collection holdings that were not yet catalogued or not available to a wider audience. The current project is the result of this requirement for comprehensive records and metadata standards.

The data models have been significantly modified since 2018. As with the manuscript notes module, the person datasets that had previously been recorded in the manuscript datasets were gradually transferred to the GND. The same applied to the works module, which now separates work titles and manuscripts and also links the works to GND datasets. All these new developments were implemented by the Qalamos project team.


What started over 15 years ago as a small information technology pilot project on electronic cataloguing of Arabic and Persian manuscripts at Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig has become an internationally recognised portal at Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. Following initiation, design and programming in Leipzig, the scientific focus under the direction of the Oriental Department of Staatsbibliothek Berlin enabled the portal to evolve into a widely respected research tool and database that will continue being home to new or not yet accessible collections of non-European manuscripts. In the process, the emphasis is primarily on data exchange with other projects and further networking. MyCoRe and the entire IT concept have clearly demonstrated that such a long-term database project is feasible and future-oriented. In their support of Qalamos, sponsors along the way have made a good investment in an outstanding product for science and research.

Leipzig, 12.08.2022