FROM THE JOHNSTON LIBRARY: Happy accidents keep us stumbling down the learning path


Serendipity is part of enjoying the library and gaining inspiration there.

This word makes me think of happy accidents like a fascinating, unexpected book on the shelf right next to the one I had been coming to find.

However, serendipity is not just about accident. In the fairy tale from which the word was coined, the heroes have great success on journeys into the unknown, partly by accident, and partly because education prepares them to observe carefully.

Scientists and engineers sometimes move the world forward by leaps and bounds because of an accident, but a lot of work precedes those moments.

Detectives solve mysteries sometimes through a chance occurrence, but reach those moments with persistence and sharp eyes. They are ready to take hold when fate lends a hand.

Library workers prepare their shelves and catalogs to increase the chances of discovery.

Physical card catalogs might include multiple cards for each resource, arranged according to various indexes.  Some detail on a card might jump out as you happily flick through them.

Now catalogs are electronic, and lose some of the tactile joy, but give other advantages.  You can judge by a picture of the cover, see covers of related works, excerpts and reviews.  You can search not just by indexes we anticipate, but by almost any word in the record. You can try your search in alternate catalogs linked to one another.

Novelist is a database linked from our website that allows you to enter an author or title to find related authors and titles you might like, or find categories that lead you to similar books and reading levels.

EBSCOHost will search thousand of periodical article to find related information.  And librarians will work with you to use these tools, and to help you with what they've seen. All of this can inform your solitary wandering through the shelves to find something that might set you on a new course. 

Editor’s Note: Jon Anderson serves as the Marian J. Mohr Memorial Library Director. Watch for his column weekly in the Johnston Sun Rise.


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