Serendipity in stacks, racks and online sytems

sun.jpg.jpgWe have just spent a while on the San Juan Islands (off the North West coast of Washington State and East of Vancouver Island for unfamiliar readers - Wikipedia).

I bought a couple of books in the congenial Pyramidion Used and Rare Books in Eastsound on Orcas Island. I was surprised and pleased to find Here comes the sun: architecture and public space in Twentieth-Century European culture by Ken Worpole (whom I have mentioned before in these pages). This was something that I thought I might buy when it came out but I never got around to it. And there it was - its golden covers standing out on the shelf. Worpole writes about the role of places in our social lives, and has written interestingly about public libraries.

Serendipity is indeed important.

It seems to me that I hear evocations of the importance of serendipity in the stacks and racks more often as folks are trying to explain what is lost as we take the digital turn. My response is that yes, serendipity is important, and there is an obvious imperative here: we need to make our data work harder to support the much enhanced opportunities for serendipity our network services provide. One of the ironies of the current discussion of the future of cataloging is how un-stretched existing catalog data is in our systems, whatever about additional or different metadata.

Aside: One of the more interesting chapters in Here comes the sun, with some wonderful pictures, is about the lido, the open-air swimming pool. I mentioned the pictures of lidos in my earlier post. I was interested to see that the one LibraryThing collector of this volume had tagged it with 'lidos', maybe sharing my impression of the interestingness of this chapter within the whole (the other tag is 'Britain' although the work self-describes with 'European' and has a Northern European focus), or indicating its importance in the published record of the lido. Who knows? However, this allows it to be related - potentially serendipitously for some users - to Liquid assets: the lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain. Interestingly, this connection is not made by the subject headings on either book (Here comes the sun; Liquid assets). It may or may not be appropriate to have expected the application of subject headings alone to have made the link but I think it does point up the desire to develop better ways of relating resources in multiple ways, as shown, in, for example, the work of the Powerhouse Museum.

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Comments: 5

Aug 17, 2007
Hugh Taylor

Re serendipity in the stacks:

John Naughton, - like Lorcan, a distinguished Irishman - once devoted one of his weekly columns in the Observer (a London Sunday paper with a great history and an even greater tradition of quality writing) to the joys of browsing amongst the open stacks of Cambridge University Library, the largest such collection in the UK. As our Reader's Newsletter put it at the time:

In an article in The Observer of 19 November 1995, John Naughton told of a morning spent in blissful exploration of the Library's open-access bookstacks, describing the Library as 'the most accessible collection of literary treasure on this side of the Atlantic'. Although noting the hazards of being 'ambushed' by books whose existence he had never suspected while on the trail of the one he was seeking, he comes down firmly in favour of the delights of serendipity - 'the nearest thing to Paradise that this world has to offer'!

Aug 17, 2007
Sally Wainman

The campaign to save Broomhill Pool in Ipswich will move into its sixth year this September (2007). This is a Grade II listed, Olympic sized lido built in 1938 and closed in the autumn of 2002.

Interested researchers can google "broomhill pool" or "broomhill lido" and come up with a wide range of background information. The Twentieth Century Society were successful in getting the lido spot-listed in August 2001 and without a doubt this has helped enormously to keep the bulldozers at bay. A full scale Feasibility Study was carried out in 2006 headed by WPP Architects, on behalf of the Broomhill Pool Trust. Ipswich Borough Council have accepted the findings of this study,but have not increased their 2005 offer of £1million towards the estimated restoration figure of £3.9million. (Their current preferred option is to build a £24million indoor pool near to Portman Road Football Stadium)
The Waterfront area of Ipswich has seen something like £800 million of investment pouring in, in recent years, along with the establishment of a new university, so it does not seem unreasonable to hope for just £2.9million to see our lido back on the map and fully operational once more. If you would like to see Broomhill in action there is a clip on You Tube called "The Pool". The lido site will be open to the public on the Heritage Open Days 8th and 9th September 2007 (10am-5pm)

Aug 20, 2007

Serendipity, yes, but some organization has already taken place. You likely found this book because you were interested in the subject and the books were grouped that way. Elaine Svenonius in "The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization" makes a similar point that browsing the library stacks is not strictly serendipitous, because librarians have already put like subjects together. The organizational work that librarians/booksellers/etc. do makes this kind of serendipity possible.

Aug 20, 2007
Lorcan Dempsey

Philip - yes, this is part of what I was trying to say. We need to think about how to deploy organizational techniques more effectively in our online services to support richer serendipitous opportunity!

Aug 16, 2008
Sally Wainman

The campaign to see Broomhill Pool in Ipswich restored and re-opened, will move into its seventh year this autumn. The Broomhill Pool Trust submitted a Heritage Lottery Fund bid in March this year (2008) and the outcome should be known in Sept/October.

Just to recap, this is a Grade II Listed, Olympic-sized lido built in 1938 and closed in 2002 by Ipswich Borough Council. It features in Janet Smith's book "Liquid Assets - the lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain" in several places, including the Case Studies and the chapters on Design and The Future.

The Feasibility Study showed it could be re-opened as a heated, outdoor, 50 metre pool, with diving boards, for approx £3.9million. This is the only Olympic-sized lido in Suffolk and I hope, with all my heart, that this seven year effort comes to a successful conclusion!