Information encountering re-encountered. A conceptual re-examination of serendipity in the context of information acquisition

Pages731-751
Publication Date14 Feb 2020
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JD-08-2019-0151
AuthorSanda Erdelez,Stephann Makri
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Information encountering
re-encountered
A conceptual re-examination of serendipity
in the context of information acquisition
Sanda Erdelez
School of Library and Information Science, Simmons University, Boston,
Massachusetts, USA, and
Stephann Makri
Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design and Centre for Information Science,
City, University of London, London, UK
Abstract
Purpose In order to understand the totality, diversity and richness of human information behavior,
increasing research attention has been paid to examining serendipity in the context of information acquisition.
However, several issues have arisen as this research subfield has tried to find its feet; we have used different,
inconsistent terminology to define this phenomenon (e.g. information encountering, accidental information
discovery, incidental information acquisition), the scope of the phenomenon has not been clearly defined and
its nature was not fully understood or fleshed-out.
Design/methodology/approach In this paper, information encountering (IE) was proposed as the
preferred term for serendipity in the context of information acquisition.
Findings A reconceptualized definition and scope of IE was presented, a temporal model of IE and a refined
model of IE that integrates the IE process with contextual factors and extends previous models of IE to include
additional information acquisition activities pre- and postencounter.
Originality/value By providing a more precise definition, clearer scope and richer theoretical description of
the nature of IE, there was hope to make the phenomenon of serendipity in the context of information
acquisition more accessible, encouraging future research consistency and thereby promoting deeper, more
unified theoretical development.
Keywords Information encountering, Serendipity, Passive information acquisition, Information behavior,
Information seeking, Models
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
The phenomenon of serendipity has attracted much interest in scientific, management and
creative scholarly disciplines; many scientific discoveries, from Velcro to Viagra, have been
attributed to a combination of accident and sagacity (Roberts, 1989), organizations have
recognized the importance of creating fertile cultures and environments for facilitating
accidentalidea-sharing (Cunha et al., 2010) and studies of creative practice have identified
the importance of making ones own luckby seeking serendipity(Makri and Warwick,
2010;Makri et al., 2014). Serendipity in the context of information acquisition has also
emerged as a highly important area in the field of library and information science (LIS). This
has been fueled by broader research efforts to understand the totality, diversity and richness
of human information behavior (HIB) and to inform the design of physical and digital
information environments that facilitate new ways of supporting passive information
acquisition. However, despite attempts of LIS researchers to bring terminological clarity and
a defined research agenda to this area for example, through the organization of
international workshops such as the International Workshop on Opportunistic Discovery of
Information (IWODI, Columbia MO, USA, 2010) and Serendipity, Chance and Opportunity in
Information
encountering
re-encountered
731
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
https://www.emerald.com/insight/0022-0418.htm
Received 6 August 2019
Revised 27 December 2019
Accepted 29 December 2019
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 3, 2020
pp. 731-751
© Emerald Publishing Limited
0022-0418
DOI 10.1108/JD-08-2019-0151
Information Discovery workshop (SCORE, Montreal, Canada, 2012) the theory base on
serendipity in the context of information acquisition grew organically. While this is perhaps
understandable due to the slippery and subjectivenature of serendipity (Makri and
Blandford, 2012a), organic growth has resulted in different, inconsistent terminology being
used to define serendipity in the context of information acquisition for example, information
encountering (Erdelez, 1995,2004), accidental information discovery (Race and Makri, 2016),
incidental information acquisition (Williamson, 1998;Heinstr
om, 2006), parallel development
of models that incorporate serendipity at different levels of conceptual granularity, lack of a
clear scope of the phenomenon and an incomplete understanding of its nature.
In this article, we propose information encountering (IE) as the preferred concept for
referring to serendipity in the context of information acquisition and for framing future LIS
research on this topic. To provide gravitas to this proposal, we present several theoretical
enhancements to IE as a concept; we position IE within a broader conceptual space of
information acquisition by presenting a reconceptualized definition and scope of the
phenomenon. We also present a refined process model of IE based on synthesized findings
from the literature. This model integrates the contextual factors into the IE process
and extends previous models of IE to include additional information acquisition activities
pre- and postencounter. By providing a more precise definition, clearer scope and richer
theoretical description of the nature of IE, we hope to make the phenomenon of serendipity in
the context of information acquisition more accessible, promoting greater terminological
uniformity and greater standardization in how researchers conceptualize the phenomenon.
We hope this will encourage more consistent theoretical development in the future.
The paper is organized into the following main sections:
(1) A discussion of prior research on the concept of serendipity and its study in LIS,
focusing particularly on serendipity in the context of information acquisition. This
includes an examination of terminological and definitional differences that appear in
the literature (sections 24);
(2) A reconceptualized definition and scope of information encountering categorized
along dimensions of the information acquisition space(sections 56);
(3) A temporal model of IE that illustrates presence of IE across multiple information
needs and time dimensions (section 7);
(4) A refined process model of information encountering that integrates the IE process with
contextual factors identified in the literature and extends previous models to include
additional information acquisition activities pre- and postencounter (section 8);
(5) A discussion on the importance of these theoretical contributions to the subfield of
HIB and the field of LIS more broadly (section 9);
(6) A concluding reflection on the contributions of this work and a projection of further
developments of information encountering research (section 10).
2. History of serendipity
The term serendipitywas first used in the writings of English art historian and writer Sir
Horace Walpole. In 1754, he wrote a letter to his friend, politician Horace Mann, and
referenced an oriental fairytale The Three Princes of Serendip (former Sri Lanka) in which the
main protagonists constantly made discoveries of things they were not searching for.
Walpole used Serendip as a root to coin the new word serendipity and defined is as an instance
of accidental sagacity. In his letter to Mann from January 28, 1754, Walpole provided
JD
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