On October 29 and 30, the Serendipity Society made its presence known at the annual meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T), held in Washington D.C. Several members presented their research results at a serendipity-themed session. These papers describe the continuing refinement of our understanding of serendipity as information-encountering–they take on the effect that seeking serendipity has on our choices for information sources, on the factors that influence whether unexpected encounters end up as valuable findings, and on the relevance of understanding serendipitous encounters with important information for how we might better get that important information out to the people who need it.
The next day, a number of members and a few guests attended a casual (and partly virtual) meeting where we shared ideas, made plans, and got to know each other a little better.
Kim Martin presented the results of her research with Anabel Quan-Haase. In their paper, they describe “a process of controlled serendipity,” as experienced by the historians they interviewed. The element of control comes into play in the way these researchers chose digital tools to work with: they found certain tools have features that are conducive to serendipity and, seeking serendipity, they chose those tools to work with. In sum, historians are keenly aware that serendipity can play a key part in their research process, and social media is a great place to find it. You can find the powerpoint from the presentation here.
The paper by Stephann Makri and co-authors Mina Ravem and Dana McKay turns to what happens “after serendipity strikes.” While it is important to identify the conditions for having unexpected encounters, it is equally important to understand when (and why) those encounters turn into valuable discoveries, experiences and inspirations. More research needs to be done on the motivations and methods used to create that value–this project kicks off that research. It gives an analysis of online diary entries created by students who encountered information while researching, identifying several factors that motivated their participants to follow up on a potentially valuable finding. For a summary of the key points, you can download the presentation handout here.
As the final presentation in the session, Sheila O’Hare and Sanda Erdelez (who also chaired the session) presented the results of their exploratory study into the role of “personal and environmental factors” when people seek out legal information. Given that people encounter information throughout their day, the study seeks to see what happens when that information is legal information: how does the average American, untrained in law, encounter legal information? There has been research done on the gender, age, and other differences between people who find health information online–this is the first study done to look for similar factors in finding information about the law.
This group of speakers and some members of the audience met up with each other the next day at the conference, and Samantha Copeland and Yosef Solomon attended via virtual connection. As a group, we talked about our diverse backgrounds and our interests in serendipity, and how we might bring them together and move forward with the field of serendipity research as a whole. If you are interested in our plans for the network, or would like to join in, you can email the Serendipity Society at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.