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The decline of stack serendipity

A recent conversation with a faculty member placed me in the awkward position of responding to a deeply-felt argument in support of stack serendipity. Disagreeing feels like heresy, if only for the immense investment in space and staff that research libraries have put into the physical collocation of scholarship.
And I don’t disagree—stack serendipity remains beautiful and productive. My reservation is that its position has been seriously eroded on all sides—e-books and journals, remote/compact storage, interdisciplinarity, and inter-institutional collection sharing all reduce the effectiveness of shelf scanning. Meanwhile, digital search and digital content have created vast and powerful new opportunities for experiencing the surprise of unexpected but useful connections.