Faculty members who have objected say that, while database research is important to modern-day academics, Denver researchers will invariably lose out on serendipitous discovery that comes with perusing a library’s stacks. “I know it’s kind of a touchy-feely argument, and I wish I had documented my own experience to prove it,” Headrick said. “But it’s very, very common in a lot of the social sciences. I’ll leave with five other books that I find while looking.It's funny. We believe in digital serendipity: we find things when we're searching online that we never thought we'd find, and we boast about it. That's what Twitter is for, apparently. So why are we so apologetic about the "touchy-feely" nature of paper serendipity, which is at least as important to those in humanities fields?
And is anyone else getting tired of the argument that those of us who find it useful to look at books on shelves just don't get the digital age? I get it. I really do. Being able to search for and access texts online is a wonderful thing. But to sing the old song again, paper is a technology, too, and sometimes it's the most efficient one. I can scan through a book, read a few pages, check the index, and know whether to take it out or not in a minute or so.
I was thinking of this the other day when I went to our campus library, which was filled with students studying. (The presence of books doesn't seem to have hurt their ability to do this, by the way.) As I was checking out, the librarian helpfully pointed out that books could be delivered to departments if faculty ordered them. I appreciate that service and will probably take advantage of it at some point, especially if I'm pressed for time. There's a tradeoff, though, and its name is serendipity.