Monthly Archives: May 2014

Updated OCLC WorldCat data – 20% more, and more accurate

I’ve updated an important resource, adding 20% to its contents, and improving the accuracy of all of the data in it. When we converted from a hobby to a business, we worked with OCLC to get a file of books by or about ships. For more about how these records are used, see the first of two posts about WorldCat records, here.

In any case, we agreed with OCLC that these records would remain in the free database, rather than the newly-created subscription database. There were about 40,000 records in that file. Last month, I had the opportunity to visit OCLC’s headquarters, in Dublin, Ohio. While there, I received an updated version of this file, which now contains over 50,000 authority records for ships.

I worked through the file, doing cleanup and corrections, and spent a few tries at loading the file into the database. It wasn’t as easy as other files, because the OCLC records are fully Unicode compliant. The database likes UTF-8, but Unicode is a bit beyond its abilities. (Actually, not in its abilities to display vessel names, but in its abilities to store them.) I replaced vessel names in Cyrillic, Japanese, Chinese, etc., with their transliterated names, and also removed a lot of the Unicode characters that were causing problems.

I also fixed a lot of names that I hadn’t fixed the first time around. Most of these were ship names with prefixes attached, like “USS Daffodil” or “HMS Daffodil” or “S/S Daffodil”. It’s always best to search without those prefixes. I have cleanup still to do on those leftover ship names, but the new records are live and I can do the cleanup later.

So now, as a result, the OCLC WorldCat resource has grown from about 40,000 to about 50,000 citations, and the metadata is much improved. All of these citations are in the free database. This is a big improvement all around. Thanks again to OCLC for creating this file for me!

38th Voyage: An Introduction

I’ve had a long relationship with Mystic Seaport. When I was 16, my mom, brother, and I drove across the country and my mom included a visit to the Seaport on our itinerary, along with museums like Colonial Williamsburg, the Chicago Art Institute, the American Natural History Museum, Plimoth Plantation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and many more, with stops at the homes of friends and family in Ames, Iowa; Bloomington, Indiana; Winnetka, Illinois; and more. The ultimate destination was a week at a rented house on Martha’s Vineyard; on the way back to Seattle we drove up Michigan to visit Mackinac Island, then into Canada and back across, through Banff, Lake Louise, and Moose Jaw (in the distance).

It was a remarkable trip, and I suppose my introduction to Mystic Seaport on that trip represented a significant turning point in my life. A few years later, I learned about the Williams-Mystic Program in American Maritime Studies, and I delayed my graduation from college to attend the program. A year after that I returned to the Seaport for the spring, summer, and fall, to work on the Demonstration Squad. The Demo Squad shows visitors how all sorts of stuff is done, not just climbing the rigging and setting sails. When I was there, we would show how one splits a cod, we’d set up and run the breeches buoy tool that was used to rescue folks from near-shore shipwrecks, drop the anchor and then haul it back up with the winch on the L.A. Dunton, and of course we also set and furled sails on the Charles W. Morgan and the Joseph Conrad. That was a great work experience that I will always treasure; I made life-long friends while I was there for just a few months.

After that, I returned to attend Sea Music Festivals, either to listen the music, or to present at the associated symposia, or both. And then, my wife and I got married at the Seaport. I’ve returned whenever I reasonably can. Clearly, the place means a lot to me.

When I first heard about the Seaport’s plans to sail the Morgan at the end of her five-year restoration project, I didn’t believe it. I remember that my brother-in-law mentioned an article he’d read in the Hartford Courant, that mentioned these plans. When I’d worked at the Seaport, we had always said to visitors that the ship would not sail again; she was a museum artifact and that simply wasn’t in the cards. But my brother-in-law was right, and a few years ago, at a maritime history conference held at the Seaport, I heard the new Seaport president, Steve White, talk about the museum’s plans to sail the Morgan again. White talked at a jammed session in the Munson Room, in the library building. One audience member had many, many suggestions of where they could go to find sailors for the voyage. White gently assured the audience that finding people to sail on Morgan was the least of his worries at that point! I wondered how I could be one of those folks, but couldn’t imagine how I could possibly arrange it.

Fast forward a few years, to last fall, and the Seaport announced their “38th Voyagers” program. This trip will be the Morgan’s 38th voyage, and the Voyagers program is an application program in which 8-10 people will join each leg of the trip, to work on various projects related to the voyage, whaling, the impact of maritime history on American history, and more. I duly applied, and was thrilled to be accepted to the program.

In a future post I’ll write about what my project will involved (here’s a hint: you’re reading part of it), but for now, I want to briefly lay out what this voyage will look like. Later I’ll write about why I believe it matters so much.

The primary goal of the voyage was to create a homecoming for the Morgan in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The ship was built in New Bedford, and launched there, in 1841. The ship will be at State Pier in New Bedford for nine days, open to visitors, including over the 4th of July weekend. I understand that New Bedford is incredibly excited about the return of the ship, as they should be, and are planning to really put together a great visit for the Morgan. In addition to New Bedford, Morgan will make a number of other visits on the way to and from New Bedford, including Newport, RI, Provincetown, MA, and Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston.

The itinerary for the trip is shown below.

Morgan 38th outlineMAP

I went back to the Seaport in late April for a training day, and a chance to go climbing, in preparation for climbing the rigging while under sail. All in all, it was a great trip.

I will be sailing on the first leg, from New London, CT, to Newport, RI. I will post more about preparation for the trip, and other events related to it (and!) soon.

Welcome Back

This is the first of what should be many posts on the blog. I have had some problems with the blog for a while, but thanks to a crack team of experts, I’m back on track. I plan to be adding to the site a lot over the next few weeks.

Some will be about changes and improvements at (new content, for instance), plus recent conference trips, but a lot will be about the upcoming 38th Voyage of Mystic Seaport’s Charles W. Morgan. I’ll be sailing on the first leg, from New London, Connecticut, to Newport, Rhode Island, and I plan to share a lot about the trip before, during, and after, here on the blog. Please let me know what you think about the trip and my comments – I look forward to hearing from you!

Peter McC