Monthly Archives: July 2014

Most popular ships in libraries, from OCLC

Not long ago I analyzed information about vessels registered in the US and found a list of the 100 most common ship names in America. Folks at OCLC, the online library cooperative, did something somewhat similar lately – and found the 10 most common ships in library collections.

Thom Hickey, Chief Scientist at OCLC, had put together a list of about 50,000 authority records for ships, for me – which went in to the free part of the database. To be clear, an ‘authority record for a ship’ is a record that defines a ship as an entity, not unlike a record that defines a person. Ships can be subjects of books, of course, but they can also be authors of books. As an example, the logbook of a vessel is “by” the ship, in addition to being by the person or people who recorded the information – though often their names may not be known.

This new set of 50,000 authority records was a great enhancement to (see my blog post about these records, and see an earlier post about how best to use them). It updated a set of about 40,000 records that had been put together for me five years ago, and also gave me a chance to correct, improve, and update this information in the database. Again, all of this information is in the free portion of the database. These authority records make a great way of finding books about, say, the Titanic or the Lusitania, and are particularly valuable when one is searching for a whole book about a particular ship.

The folks at OCLC then went one step further, and decided to see what ships were most popular in libraries around the world. They took the list of ships they’d generated, then looked at how many library holdings were noted for each ship. This is a great way of measuring popularity: you’re not looking just at how many books (or movies or other works) have been created about a particular ship, you’re also looking at how many libraries own each of these works.

The results are here; I think it’s no surprise that Titanic tops the list. I will admit I was quite surprised about the rest of the top five: Mayflower, Bounty, Amistad, and Endurance.

Ship name Number of holdings*
  Titanic 260,693
  Mayflower 48,657
  Bounty 35,382
  Amistad 32,464
  Endurance 27,877
*as of 11 July 2014

The OCLC Blog entry has great examples of resources about each ship (check out the image of a Titanic made from dried apples!), findable through WorldCat, and is very much worth a close read. Take a look at the next five most popular ships, too – you might be surprised at what is most popular in libraries.

Maritime history is everywhere – Mark Twain as an example

One of my biggest challenges comes in making clear the role of maritime history in American history and life, and in world history and life. In a way, I think vessels are so ubiquitous that they’re not even noticed. But for most of recorded history, news and information (and with it, human connections) used ships to travel long distances. If you look, everywhere you turn you will see a maritime impact.

I noticed that again today, when I went visited the many Mark Twain sites in Elmira, NY. Elmira is not far from where I live, but I don’t go there often. I knew there were connections with Mark Twain, but I did not realize how many. As it turns out, Twain’s wife and family lived in Elmira for many years, and Twain (well, Sam Clemens) regularly spent summers there.

Sam Clemens’ sister-in-law owned an estate about two miles outside of town (and Twain’s father-in-law was the richest man in town and owned the largest house in town), and she built a small rectangular study for Twain in 1874, which he loved and used extensively, writing much of many titles there in the summertime. The study was moved to Elmira College in the 1950s (Twain’s wife attended the college, and the family had many other connections there as well), and is now open for visits in the summertime, and by appointment other times of the year.

Where’s the maritime connection – other than water weaving its way through all of Twain’s work? Sam Clemens met Olivia Langdon through her younger brother, Charles. Many signs told me that Charles and Clemens met on board the steamship Quaker City, in 1867 in the Mediterranean, where they struck up a conversation, and eventually Charles showed Sam a picture of his sister, and Clemens was immediately taken with Charles’ sister. It took some time before they actually met, and then before Olivia accepted Clemens’ marriage proposal, but it all went back to the Quaker City.

Of course, has entries on Quaker City – more than 80 of them – and not all are about the ship that Clemens and Langdon sailed together on, but if you want to know more about that ship, I can’t think of a better place to start.

After visiting the sites at Elmira College I stopped at Twain’s gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery, where he’s buried with his wife’s ashes (she died in Florence, in 1904), those of his children, and his only known grandchild.

In the end, water matters. Whether you’re studying the life of Sam Clemens or the writings of Mark Twain, water had a huge impact on his life. I’d argue it has that impact on the lives of many, many people, and I will keep trying to convince the world of that.