serendipity and the biblioblogosphere

Many times in the biblioblogosphere, bloggers have commented on the heterogeneity of library blogs. A great post or article or whatever might get picked up by 5-10 or more blogs before it finishes, leaving the readers of said blogs bored or simply tired of what Meredith termed “groupthink” in a controversial post earlier this year. Though I think sharing great posts, library projects, and ideas is exactly what makes blogging so great, there are some times when the cohesiveness of the library blogging world can get tedious. As much as it is growing, the library blogosphere is pretty small, and when something reverberates around it, it makes a lot of noise.

A sense of community is wonderful, but are we selling ourselves short? The recent meme going around where library bloggers listed their non-library RSS feeds showed one thing–librarians are thinking outside the library box. But, as an article I recently read asked, “Are we filtering ourselves into an internet ghetto?” In that post, David Tebbutt states, “We risk surrounding ourselves with like-minded online friends, visiting only those websites that conform to our views and filtering out stuff we don’t want to hear. Thank goodness the technology is imperfect; otherwise web habitués would never break out of their self-imposed mental prisons.”

He’s not talking just about library blogs; he’s talking about the dangers that RSS technology may wreak when we only have information served up to us filtered, just the way we like. There is a real risk of a loss of creativity, of spontaneous thought, of innovation, when we pick and choose our information sources so carefully. That’s really why the theme of serendipity has become more resonant in our digital age. You see people decrying the lack of serendipity when library stacks close most often, but also when people are thinking about the loss of print media, particularly newspapers. Without serendipity, discovery is more difficult.

I think a lot of people would disagree with that assertion, particularly those who tout RSS as the future of information management (save time! see only what you want!). I am one of those people, too, actually, but I definitely see the need for a little serendipity in our digital lives. Serendipitous discoveries lead us to new lines of thought–far away from where we may have started. Is filtering information going to kill serendipity?

I think serendipity is the major reason why so many of us and so many physicians rely on tables of contents notifications. Sure, a physician may not be remotely interested in every article (or even any article) in a JAMA issue, but seeing the table of contents does more than help keep her up to date–it enables her to make connections between things that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. One of the faculty members I work with came up to me a couple of days ago to thank me for sending out tables of contents for the new medical education journals we get. He and I spoke animatedly and at length about how just searching for information on a topic leaves out all sorts of materials that may give inspiration or be meaningful to work–but that you wouldn’t have even known to look for.

Tebbutt sees StumbleUpon (or del.icio.us’ randomizer, and now, maybe, Google’s new “picks for you” toolbar button) as the solution for putting serendipity back into our filtered lives. What would a solution be for physicians? Do we have to rely on tables of contents? Surely, there is a better solution for serendipity in medicine. Is it DissectMedicine? Or is it less 2.0?

What do you do to keep serendipity in your digital life?

Serendipity – a brief bibliography

For more on serendipity as I come across it, see my del.icio.us tag. Naturally, there is an RSS feed.

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