The opposite of search: serendipity and scholarly research

If search is 'fixed', what can we do about supporting chance discovery?

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Academic publishing has focused much of its energy on helping researchers access relevant scholarly information by optimising search.  However, how do people find relevant information when their information needs are vague – or if they simply do not yet know what they will find useful?

A new Sage White Paper sets out to explore unplanned discovery and to identify ways for information professionals to support researchers and to improve research outcomes.  Different information behaviours require different professional support.

Understanding information seeking behaviour

  • Finding – known item discovery via known routes
  • Re-finding – known item discovery, but seeker may not know routes/sources
  • Exploring – users know where to look, but do not know exactly what they are looking form
  • Serendipity – unplanned discovery

How can information professionals encourage serendipitous discovery?

Researchers can find it difficult to articulate their information needs.  In fact, web analytics show that they rarely perform a single search but refine their needs as they go.  Most will click on links to recommended or related content during their search activity.  Users will click on content that looks relevant OR interesting (serendipity). This type of content-based discovery is popular amongst researchers.  Much less popular, and less trusted by them, is publishers’ recommendations on the lines of Amazon recommendations – e.g. "readers of this article also read".

However, recommendations from peers are trusted and some providers are looking for ways to create a blended approach to content based recommendations such as assuming trust within reader’s networks.   The challenge for providers is not to appear too 'creepy' or intrusive.

The White Paper is available here.