Library research serendipity



One of the LD4 2021 presentations led me to an interesting paper from 1992, “Chance in the midst of design: approaches to library research serendipity” by Daniel Liestman. The abstract:

This paper proposes six approaches to library research serendipity. Coincidence assumes that a researcher inevitably will find something useful. Prevenient grace accounts for the prior organization of information as a means toward serendipity. Synchronicity proposes the existence of hidden patterns and unknown forces aiding the researcher. Perseverance maintains that thorough researchers are likely to encounter serendipity. Altamirage assumes that unique behaviors can cause serendipity. Sagacity is a pragmatic and applied approach. It is conceded that serendipity carries a research stigma. Nevertheless, serendipity can be better understood and experienced more frequently.

Liestman’s paper reminded me of one I read last year, “A Discussion on Serendipity in Creative Systems”, as well as Fania Raczinski’s PhD thesis on “Algorithmic Meta-Creativity” and the Syzygy Surfer project with Andrew Hugill and Jim Hendler.

I’ve been thinking about these things in the context of my Paradicms projects. A museum or library collection should be more than just fodder for search engines. How do we build browsing interfaces that engage people who can’t visit a collection in person? How do we reflect the richness of the domain, instead of reducing collection data to the lowest common denominator? How do we enable discovery while still supporting targeted search?