18 April 2014

Find the book you need on WorldCat

This post was originally posted as part of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge in 2010.

dreamstimefree_6456266WorldCat is a catalogue of many, many libraries in the world. I’ve used it before and usually it has told me that the book I am looking for is in the State Library of NSW or the National Library of Australia, which is where I would have looked anyway. Unfortunately my genealogy society isn’t part of WorldCat, but one day that will change.

For the sake of this exercise I decided not to look for a book that I know of, but to find books that I didn’t know about. As Amy suggested, I’ve put in one of my unusual surnames – Whippy. David Whippy, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, arrived in Fiji in about 1822 and stayed there.

So I put “Whippy” in the WorldCat search, and waited. 70 results, including a dissertation about job satisfaction in Guam University. I narrowed it down by adding ‘Fiji’, and came up with 5 results, 2 of which were the same.

The most relevant item I found was a microfilm of a play written by Isobel Whippy:

The play concerns the first British Consul in Fiji, William Thomas Pritchard, who arrived in Levuka in September 1858 and was dismissed from his post in January 1863. It is based on a theory that the Consul lost his job because of a love affair with a young woman – possibly a part-European – who gave birth to two children by Pritchard, before he married her in the British Consulate in Levuka a few days afte his dismissal. The play is in two acts – the first covering the period from September 1858 to June 1859; the second from November 1859 to July 1862. There is an epilogue concerning the year 1864.

The microfilm was published by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau in Canberra, which I happen to know is part of the Australian National University and who microfilm manuscripts related to Pacific history. The films are available in the State Library NSW, and I have accessed them there in the past.

WorldCat, however, told me that my nearest copy was at Yale University Library, New Haven, CT 06520 United States, at a distance of 10000 miles. If I selected the other, identical title, I could find it at the State Library of NSW, the National Library of Australia, and the State Library of Victoria.

There is however, a link to Related Identities, one of which was the Australian National University Pacific Manuscripts Bureau. There’s a timeline for the Bureau that goes back to 1830, which was rather startling until I realised that most of the works listed are about American whalers in the Pacific and such, and filmed by the PMB.

So the end result of my investigation is that I can almost always find what I need in the State Library of NSW, in Sydney where I live. Anything that this library doesn’t have will probably be in Canberra and probably available on inter-library loan, although I haven’t hit this situation yet.

David Whippy didn’t arrive on a whaler but the principle is the same, so I now have a list of resources I can check to find out more about the way of life and the history of Americans in the Pacific, if not about David Whippy directly. Most, if not all, available at the State Library of NSW.

Libraries Australia has  a combined catalogue of many libraries in Australia. I don’t know if all the same libraries are in both catalogues. The free version of this catalogue is within Trove.


I put Whippy in the Search field and got a whole heap of results:

Trove - Whippy search

As you can see, there’s a vast array of stuff which will take me some time to work through. Not all of it is relevant, but some of it is. For example, the third entry under Australian newspapers (1803-1954) is a page from the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1856 containing transcripts of correspondence about American activities in Fiji. In one of the letters, written by James Calvert, the Wesleyan missionary, Mr Whippy, my David Whippy, is mentioned a number of times as arbitrating with Mr. Calvert in a dispute between the natives and an American ship’s captain. I was then able to correct the transcription of the notoriously difficult newspaper print, and download a PDF of the page or the whole newspaper.

Further down the screen there are sections for Maps, Diaries and Letters, and Archived Websites. All sections can be opened and closed on this summary screen, or clicked on to give the full list of results.

Trove is relatively new, and having now played with it I can see it is vastly superior to WorldCat for my purposes. Australian catalogues are more likely to be useful to me in general to find a book I can borrow in an Australian library. Trove gives so much more than any library catalog that I would be unlikely to go anywhere else.

It also gave me more books than WorldCat did. On its list of 96 books, journals and magazines, etc, it gives the title Gone Native in Polynesia by Ian Christopher Campbell, a book I’ve been trying to get hold of for some time. This book has a whole chapter on David Whippy in Fiji. There are tabs for each State, and under NSW I can see that it’s available at the State Library of NSW and the University of Wollongong Library. There is also a link to show where I can buy a copy – in this case from Blackwell Online for 70 pounds or Amazon from US$79.00 to US$235.00. I won’t be buying a copy for my library, but I have a search in eBay just in case.

Isobel’s play is there, with the same results – State Library of NSW, and the reference number is given.

Really, I can’t see why I would use WorldCat on a day-to-day basis. Contributers to Trove include Project Gutenberg, so I might be able to download the book I want then and there.


  1. I suspect that I will come to a similar conclusion – that most of the books and articles I want are available locally.

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