Three hundred and fifty years after his birth, the work of Irish satirist Jonathan Swift continues to enjoy great popularity among contemporary readers. Library data tells us that Swift is the most popular Irish author, and the work for which he is best known, Gulliver’s Travels, is the most popular work by an Irish author, in world literature.
“Gulliver’s Travels belongs not just to Irish literature, but to world literature and its relevance only increases over time,” said Dr. Aileen Douglas, Head of the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, in the Irish Times last week. Dublin is marking the 350th anniversary of Swift’s birth with its Swift350 celebration throughout 2017.
Swift, who was born in Dublin in 1667, published Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. The work is now held by more than 40,000 libraries worldwide. Overall, Swift’s works account for nearly 240,000 library holdings worldwide.
Rounding out the top five most popular works by an Irish author are Dracula by Bram Stoker; The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde; and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Oscar Wilde, Eve Bunting, George Bernard Shaw and Oliver Goldsmith follow Swift in the ranking of the top five most popular Irish authors.
Our research also revealed that Eoin Colfer is the most popular contemporary Irish author, and that Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is the most popular Irish musical work.
These findings are derived from WorldCat, a union database of the catalogs of thousands of libraries around the world. We define popularity in terms of library holdings—the number of appearances by an author or work in library collections worldwide. These library collections are where world literature is stewarded and defined.
The findings on Irish authors are part of OCLC Research’s continuing work exploring cultural patterns and trends through library bibliographic and holdings data. Published materials are an important way countries project their cultural, intellectual, literary and musical traditions.
OCLC Research has developed methods for identifying a national presence in the published record, encompassing materials that are published in, are authored by people from, and/or are about a particular country. Earlier studies have applied these methods to Scotland and New Zealand.
The next study, focused on Ireland, will be released later this year. Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC Chief Strategist and Vice President, Membership and Research, presented preliminary findings from the Irish study at the recent CONUL annual conference in Athlone, Ireland. CONUL is a consortium of Ireland’s main research libraries.
These studies reveal the importance of library data, not just as organizational tools to track and find library resources, but also as a research resource that can be studied and analyzed in the aggregate—as the collective collection of the world’s libraries.
Dublin’s Swift350 celebration includes special exhibits at the Library of Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin City Public Libraries. An international conference this week, June 7–9, 2017 at Trinity College Dublin, focuses on Swift and his work.