Peter started an interesting discussion about serendipity in his Guide to Ease blog.

Serendipity is important in doing library research. Libraries are organized around classification systems to facilitate finding things serendipitously. You might go to the section of your library that has a specific book on Photography, and then find that lo and behold, there are a slew of other books on photography surrounding you. You keep poking around and find 3 other possibly relevant books and the number of possible topics that might appear in your research begins to grow. The physical arrangement of the books around a classification system like Dewey made that happen.

How is this relevant to IA? We facilitate serendipity by creating classification systems, whether they are simple or ad-hoc systems, flexible indexing systems using facets, or very structured hierarchical systems like Dewey. Those access points people use to get to content are important, and they are the result of our work. It should be transparent to users how the information is organized, but whether it's in the form of a hierarchy of topics people use in site navigation or in embedded hypertext links for metadata or classification terms in database records, the mode of access is often through classifications we've defined.

This is the stuff that we do in libraries (digital or physical) that is similar to what IA's do with web sites. It's about organizing information for access. So while Search might be the current hammer for serendipity, just remember when speaking to your clients that there are other methods (which produce perhaps more relevant results?) that have been used throughout history to aid in finding information/knowledge.

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Serendipity Background

Along these same lines, both Ranganathan (developer of facets) and Dewey (developer of the Dewey Decimal System) attempted to create a system that closely resembled how they thought information was REALLY structured in order to aid in serendipity. Ranganathan, for instance, thought that the entire universe of knowledge consisted of 5 facets: Personality, Matter, Energy, Space and Time. The thinking was that the closer the classification system reflected reality, the better access would become (back to the transparency comment above). These days, we probably have a more subjective view of the universe of knowledge and less of a belief that there is a REAL underlying structure to our information. What does that do to our classification systems?

Great stuff. There have been

Great stuff. There have been some interesting comments here lately by anonymous users. Would be nice to know who you are :) for collegiality reasons. Guess that's the benefit of participating in web site discussion, the anonymity of it. I read the posts on SIGIA and form opinions about who I think is an authority based on what they post.


Accidental Anonymity

I didn't intend to be anonymous! I am Mike Steckel from International SEMATECH ( I just filled out the form and posted.

Further down I saw a log in feature. Was I supposed to use that? Many may be anonymous accidentally too.