Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ah, The Serendipity of New Literacy

The Boston Globe published a piece this week that profiled a study whose findings assert that "the boom in online research may actually have a "narrowing" effect on scholarship". The article can be accessed here. This seems like a pretty broad claim and, from my reading of the article, the study does not necessarily differentiate between research practices, expectation, and trends within different disciplines. One central point in the article was that serendipity had been extricated from the research process.

Granted, I'm partial given my ties to an Information and Library Science School, but I do also teach in an English Department. One of the benefits, or curses, of my status as disciplinary interloper is that I'm on varied listservs. A recent post on one of my "English" listservs was the following:

Libraries are also making serendipity difficult. They do this with online catalogues
which make the casual viewing of records more difficult. They do this by returning to
sequestered stacks where books are retrieved by electronic means and not open to random
browsing. *serendipity: an "inefficient search strategy" according to a reference librarian I spoke to in 1982. I had just mentioned that I recommended that my students find an area of the open stacks where books about their research topic had been found and begin reading
indexes in books nearby for related terms.

I just can't get behind this sentiment, although a lot of other subscribers to the listserv could. My first reaction was that "Oh, this is disappointing but not surprising." Then I thought, "Hey, this is a certain sign that something is truly at stake." So, seriously, what value is serendipity as nostalgically constructed? Certainly there is technological serendipity which, of course, requires literacy in navigating emergent structures and repositories of information (e.g., digital libraries). Could it be that this post to the listserv is not a lament of lost serendipity, but a lament of lost or irrelevant literacy instead? Seems like it.


maybe a more accurate post on the listserv could've been (courtesy REM)

Storm into the boardroom of the conquering elite.
Did you recognize the madman who is shouting in the streets?
Destroy the things that I don't understand
Destroy the things that I don't understand.

1 comment:

jkd said...

Definitely agree. And I am definitely stealing that R.E.M. lyric for future responses to the classic "new things scare me" genre.