The role of agency in historians’ experiences of serendipity in physical and digital information environments
Article publication date: 10 October 2016
The purpose of this paper is to investigate the changing research practices of historians, and to contrast their experiences of serendipity in physical and digital information environments.
In total, 20 historians in Southwestern Ontario participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed employing grounded theory. The analytical approach included memoing, the constant comparative method, and three phases of coding.
Four main themes were identified: agency, the importance of the physical library experience, digital information environments, and novel heuristic forms of serendipity. The authors found that scholars frequently used active verbs to describe their experience with serendipity. This suggests that agency is more involved in the experience than previous conceptualizations of serendipity have suggested, and led us to coin the term “incidental serendipity.” Other key findings include the need for digital tools to incorporate the context surrounding primary sources, and also to provide an organizational context much like what is encountered by patrons in library stacks.
The increased emphasis on digital materials should not come at the expense of the physical information environment, where historians often encounter serendipitous finds. A fine balance and a greater integration between digital and physical resources is needed in order to support scholars’ continued ability to make connections between materials. By showing the active role that historians take in their serendipitous encounters, this paper suggests that historical training is critical for eliciting incidental serendipitous encounters. The authors propose a novel approach, one that examines verbs in serendipity accounts.
Martin, K. and Quan-Haase, A. (2016), "The role of agency in historians’ experiences of serendipity in physical and digital information environments", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 72 No. 6, pp. 1008-1026. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-11-2015-0144
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