Top Ten Ships in Libraries

During the summer months, thoughts often turn to traveling, exploration and adventure. Adventurers before us would often begin their journey by setting foot on a ship of some kind, so we went looking for the top ships in libraries.

OCLC Research has created an important aggregation of the people and organizations (including ships) noted in works described in WorldCat, called WorldCat Identities. As noted in his blog, Chief Scientist Thom Hickey has analyzed WorldCat Identities to produce a list of 50,000 ships, which has also been used in Peter McCracken's ShipIndex site. As Thom has noted, "Mostly people write about ships, but under AACR-2 [the library world's Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules] the ships themselves can be considered authors (e.g. of their logs)." From that comprehensive list of schooners, barks, whalers, sloops and other vessels, we selected the ships most represented in library collections.


Titanic (steamship)

The RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat when it first entered service and its storied demise captured the world's attention, so it should not be a surprise that it's the ship most frequently found in WorldCat. Along with descriptions of numerous related books, sound recordings and films, you'll also find a model of the doomed steamship made of apples. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Find more about the Titanic in WorldCat


About the image: "1912 Gravenstein Apple Show display of the sinking Titanic made of whole and dried sliced apples in a square pool of water" | In WorldCat | In CONTENTdm


Mayflower (Ship)

Tracing your family history back to one of those who sailed on the Mayflower for the New World in 1620 is considered an accomplishment by many. Arguably not as arduous as their epic journey and desperate struggle for survival, but it's something. (My own family history has been traced back to Mary Chilton, who at age 13 made the trek. So there.)

WorldCat offers a cornucopia of Mayflower-related resources, for genealogists hoping to make a family connection, for historians researching the Mayflower Compact, for nautical engineers interested in the construction of the vessel, and much more.

Find more about the Mayflower in WorldCat


About the image: "Mary Chilton's Leap", from Samuel Adams Drake, A book of New England legends and folk lore in prose and poetry. Illustrated by F. T. Merrill (Roberts Brothers, 1884), pg. 379 | In WorldCat | In Wikipedia


Bounty (Ship)

It started as a botanical mission to collect breadfruit plants and transport them to the West Indies. But you don't get near the top of WorldCat search results with such limited ambitions. So, spend five pleasant months in Tahiti, call in Fletcher Christian and the rest of the mutinous crew, drop off Captain Bligh and a few others to find their way back to England in a rowboat, and throw in a shipwreck on the Great Barrier Reef and an open ocean chase by the Royal Navy, and you can bet there will be a record or two about you in WorldCat.

Caroline Alexander's popular book "The Bounty: the true story of the mutiny on the Bounty" is an entertaining summertime read. You can borrow a copy from your local public library.

Find more about the Bounty in WorldCat


About the image: "The Mutineers turning Lt Bligh and part of the Officers and Crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship the Bounty, 29th April 1789" | In Wikipedia


Amistad (Schooner)

La Amistad was a Spanish schooner that was subject to a take-over by its Sierra Leone captives off the coast of Cuba. After capture by a US cutter, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the mutineers and the ship became a symbol of the abolition movement. This launched the 1997 movie with the tagline, "Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some moments when it must be taken." (This list has a bounty of mutinies.)

The name of Tulane University's Amistad Research Center commemorates the take-over of the ship, and its collections, many of which are represented in WorldCat and its archival material showcased in ArchiveGrid, are important materials for researchers studying the history of slavery, abolition, civil rights and African Americans.

Find more about the Amistad in WorldCat


About the image: "Text of the Supreme Court decision in the Amistad case. Date:March 9, 1841" | In Wikipedia


Endurance (Ship)

In 1912, the Endurance was one of the strongest ships that had ever been built, designed to meet polar ice head on. But when Ernest Shackleton and the rest of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition sailed her into the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, she became icebound, floated for months, and in 1915 the ice finally crushed her hull.

That set the stage for a remarkable story of survival, as Shackleton and the crew made their way in one of Endurance's lifeboats to Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and five of the crew journeyed over 800 miles across the southern Atlantic, traversed mountains, and reached a whaling station from which they initiated a mission that safely rescued the rest of the crew.

Also remarkable is the wealth of photographs from this expedition, including of the doomed Endurance, taken by Frank Hurley. Many of these photographs can be found in digitized collections in WorldCat.

Find more about the Endurance in WorldCat


About the image: "The Endurance crushed to death by the icepacks of the Weddell Sea [watched by the dogs, Shackleton expedition, 1 November 1915] / Frank Hurley" | In WorldCat | At the National Library of Australia


Monitor (Ironclad)

The USS Monitor was the first "ironclad" steamship of the US Navy, designed in 1861 during the US Civil War. As her name suggests, she helped in the Union blockade of Confederate ports. Riding low in shallow water for protection, and with a first-of-its-kind gun turret, the Monitor was a disruptive innovation for its time. As Nathaniel Hawthorne put it:

At no great distance from the Minnesota lay the strangest-looking craft I ever saw. It was a platform of iron, so nearly on a level with the water that the swash of the waves broke over it, under the impulse of a very moderate breeze; and on this platform was raised a circular structure, likewise of iron, and rather broad and capacious, but of no great height. It could not be called a vessel at all; it was a machine ... It was ugly, questionable, suspicious, evidently mischievous, --nay, I will allow myself to call it devilish; for this was the new war-fiend, destined, along with others of the same breed, to annihilate whole navies and batter down old supremacies.

The Monitor is also noted for its protracted battle with the Confederate ship Virginia. More about that, in item 8.

WorldCat can lead you to a unique personal perspective of life aboard the USS Monitor, in the Jacob Nicklis family letters collection held at the Mariners' Museum Library. In letters home to his father, Jacob described his misgivings about the craft as it was on its way to join blockaders off the coast of North Carolina, noting "they say we will have a pretty rough time a going around Hatteras but I hope that will not be the case." The USS Monitor sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras, and Jacob Nicklis was not among the survivors.

Find more about the Monitor in WorldCat


About the image: "The Monitor and Merrimac: The First Fight Between Ironclads", a chromolithograph of the Battle of Hampton Roads | In Wikipedia


Lusitania (Steamship)

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner, and briefly the world's biggest ship. She was launched in 1907 and in 1915 she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. International consternation ensued, with the British Empire and the United States particularly upset.

The Lusitania lore is also enhanced by a number of conspiracy theories about its sinking. Was the ship put in harms way to provoke an attack and lure the United States more deeply into World War I? Was it carrying ammunition and explosives for the war effort, in addition to civilian passengers? Was there an attempt to destroy its wreckage with depth charges, after the sinking?

Perhaps we'll never know. Meanwhile, WorldCat offers no shortage of books on the topic, along with collections of Cunard Steamship Company postcards, musical scores (including 1915's "When the Lusitania Went Down"), and more.

Find more about the Lusitania in WorldCat


About the image: [R.M.S. Lusitania, hit by torpedoes off Kinsale Head, Ireland] | At the Library of Congress


Merrimack (Frigate)

The USS Merrimack forms the basis, literally, for one of the most notable ships of the US Civil War. Launched as a frigate in 1855, she sailed to both Europe and the Pacific before returning home to Virginia to be decommissioned in 1860. But home wasn't what it used to be. Tensions were rising at the time of Lincoln's First Inaugural address and an attempt was made to sail the Merrimack to Philadelphia. But secessionists had blocked the channels. To prevent the ship from falling into Confederate hands, the US Navy burned it to the water line, leaving only the hull.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, so perhaps desperation is the father of innovation. The Confederacy was desperate for ships so the hull was raised and rebuilt as an ironclad ram, renamed the CSS Virginia, and she was sent off to stir up trouble in the waters of Hampton Roads. It was there where the epic first battle of ironclads ensued with the USS Monitor. Even after firing upon each other for hours, often at close to point-blank range, neither ship was severely damaged. The impacts were felt in other ways, as the wooden ships of the world's navies became instantly vulnerable.

For a distinctly-Unionist perspective on the battle, there is Charles Clark's 1862 ballad titled the Monitor and the Merrimack, which begins with the haunting line:

I'm going to sing a song, I won't detain you long, if you listen I will tell you how so handy-o, How the Monitor went smack up into the Merrimack and upon her sides played Yankee Doodle Dandy-o.

Find more about the Merrimack in WorldCat


About the image: USS Merrimack aflame during the burning of the Norfolk Navy Yard, 20 April 1861. | In Wikipedia


Exxon Valdez (Ship)

Being the only oil tanker in the top 10 list is a dubious distinction. The Exxon Valdez made its mark on March 24, 1989, when it ran aground in Prince William Sound, causing a major spill of crude oil and creating an ecological disaster, with some of the harmful effects still present 25 years later.

You'll find chronicles and considerations of this event in WorldCat, and from a wide range of perspectives: as an engineering or navigation failure, for its effects on the environment and the local economies, about its social and political impacts, governmental reports and proceedings regarding the disaster and the cleanup effort, and more.

The Exxon Valdez changed names at least seven times and flew under at least four flags, but continued to sail the world's oceans until it was finally grounded at the ship-breaking port of Alang, India, just two years ago, where roughly half of the world's ships are salvaged. For an informative view of the ship-breaking industry, look for Michael Kot's 2004 documentary "Shipbreakers". .

Find more about the Exxon Valdez in WorldCat


About the image: A Killer Whale pod in Prince William Sound | In CONTENTdm


Bismarck (Battleship)

The Bismarck was the largest battleship ever built by Germany. Her only offensive operation resulted in the destruction of the HMS Hood in 1941, unleashing the fury of the British Royal Navy. Days later she was sunk, with over two thousand souls lost.

One survivor is said to have been the Bismarck's "ship's cat", found floating on a board, and the only rescue made by the HMS Cossack. Named Oscar by the crew, the cat stayed aboard until the Cossack was torpedoed and sunk. Oscar, renamed Unsinkable Sam, fled to Gibraltar, only to be transferred to the HMS Ark Royal (which had played a role in sinking the Bismarck). You'll never guess: the Ark Royal was also torpedoed and sank off the coast of Gibraltar. All but one survived, including Sam. Fascinated? Then read more in "100 Cats Who Changed Civilization".

If you're not a "cat person", then WorldCat and ArchiveGrid can direct you to a recording of Adolf Hitler at the Bismarck's launching ceremony.

Find more about the Bismarck in WorldCat


About the image: Survivors of the Bismarck are rescued by British cruiser Dorsetshire | In Wikipedia

Serving as a bookend, WorldCat offers Robert Ballard's Bismarck, an account of the high-tech rediscovery of the Bismarck. Ballard also discovered the wreckage of the Titanic.


WorldCat is the world's largest and most comprehensive catalog of library resources from around the world, with more than 314 million bibliographic records that represent more than 2 billion items held by participating libraries, including books, movies, music, e-books, licensed databases, online periodicals, digital collections and more. Because of its scale, WorldCat can be used to represent a large part of the scholarly and cultural record.

At OCLC Research, we're exploring records and mining data from WorldCat to highlight interesting and different views of the world's library collections each month. Be sure to check out our "What in the WorldCat?" page often to see what we come up with next.