An Exploration of the Irish Presence in the Published Record

by Brian Lavoie and Lorcan Dempsey

What is the most popular Irish literary work? Gulliver's Travels. Who is the most popular Irish author? Jonathan Swift. Who is the most popular contemporary Irish author? Eoin Colfer. How do we know this? Library data.

Using library data, we can also detect how works of the imagination from such luminaries as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Oliver Goldsmith, Bram Stoker, and Swift form the backbone of the Irish contribution to the published record; track the diffusion of Irish-related publications around the world; observe patterns of interest over time in Irish authors ranging from L.T. Meade to George Bernard Shaw; and perceive the strong Irish presence in contemporary genres such as young adult fantasy fiction.

A country projects its culture in many ways, but few equal the importance of published materials. As the published materials linked to a country accumulate over time, a national presence of sorts forms and expands within the published record—a corpus of publications associated with that country and its people.

With the aid of library collections data, a national presence can be separated out of the broader published record for study, to gain a better understanding of a country’s contributions and influence in literature, scholarship, and ideas.The published record in all its manifold expressions is scattered across a vast global network of libraries.

Computational analysis of the Irish presence—or any national presence—is made possible by bibliographic and holdings data produced by libraries, and in particular, by the massive aggregation of this data in the WorldCat database. WorldCat is the world’s most comprehensive database of information about library collections, registering the holdings of more than 16,000 libraries around the globe. This massive aggregation of metadata is the best approximation available of the published record, as well as a unique source of intelligence about world literature as it is collected and stewarded in library collections.

The Irish presence can be circumscribed and lifted out of this library data–driven view of the published record, and explored as a distinct collection of materials. This report analyzes this data and reveals how the Irish presence is known and perceived throughout the world.

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Page 27, paragraph 3

An error in data compilation resulted in The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, With Other Documents Relating to that Saint, Parts 1 & 2, being incorrectly listed as the first and second most widely held Irish language publications in the Irish presence in the published record. The paragraph has been revised so that this error has been corrected, and some clarification of the analysis has been added.

The authors thank Nicholas Wolf for spotting the error, and Aedín Clements for advice in preparing the revision.

Page 34. The following endnote has been added:

32b. Ebooks can present a special problem in regard to popularity rankings based on library holdings, in that they are often acquired as a collection, rather than individually selected. This problem can arise with other types of material as well, but is particularly apparent with ebooks. So the high ranking of the Irish language translation of Gujarati poetry—seemingly incongruous with its rather specialized subject matter—may reflect more the popularity of the ebook collection in which it is bundled, than the individual ebook itself. Nevertheless, whether its acquisition was intentional or accidental, it is a widely held Irish-language publication.

Suggested citation:

Lavoie, Brian, and Lorcan Dempsey. 2018. An Exploration of the Irish Presence in the Published Record. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. doi:10.25333/C3WS6R