Head, Collection Department
University of Delaware Library
Newark, DE 19717 USA
v: (302) 831-2432
f: (302) 831-1046
Serendipity in the Electronic Age
No one doubts that the Internet has been a boon to librarians who want and need to have access to databases around the world. Still, there is something a little disappointing about the precision with which librarians can now find information. Because they can go “right to the source,” librarians and library patrons don’t have the same chance for happy accidents as in the past. No longer may fingers slip in the card catalog… revealing the perfect source.
Or at least that has been the prevailing view of the Internet. But Susan Davi, Head of the Collection Development Department at the University of Delaware library, proves that serendipity is part of the newest information technology.
Susan Davi was on her library’s committee to reorganize their Gopher software, in order to make Internet sources more usable. While working on this project, she discovered something she wasn’t looking for: the “Table of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists.” This was a list of the contents of about one hundred major classics journals, including publications such as Journal of Roman Studies. At first, the listing struck her as unlike what she calls “the grab bag of resources on the Internet,” because it was scholarly. She was then struck by what an advantage this resource was since, in the field of classics, major printed indexes come out only once a year, making them outdated by the time they are released.
Davi told classicists in the University of Delaware’s history and language departments about her find. She explained that the index could be searched by keyword. A scholar could put in a word — like “trade” or “portrait” or “portraiture” — and receive a list of all the articles with that word in their title. This, Davi pointed out, was an improved way for scholars to keep up with current publishing in their field.
Soon after she’d made her discovery, she sent a memo to a friend at the Art and Archeology Library at Bryn Mawr College, asking her if she had seen this resource. She hadn’t. And, Davi points out, the fact that she hadn’t means that, even in a technological age, serendipity and word of mouth can be important “information locators.”