One of the reasons scholars complain about digital resources and the decline of the traditional bookstack is that they lost the joy of serendipity.

That is, the moment when you come across one interesting book that you might never have heard of, while actually searching for another.

I’m not sure if such serendipity is really integral to academic research, or whether it’s just a pleasurable moment that provides an occasionally spark of inspiration.

But it’s interesting to see two new tools online that promise to return digital resources to users in a way that does not have the cold logic of a Google search result.

The Mechanical Curator ( randomly selects small illustrations and ornamentations, from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th Century books at the British Library

Meanwhile, Serendip-o-matic ( allows users to enter some text and then retrieve results from various digital libraries.

I doubt these are the only tools like this – I’m quite sure some interface designers have also been introducing an element of ‘randomness’ (although randomness is not really the right term) into other digital libraries as well.

What will be interesting is to see how much usage such concepts get? Will they provide something that is missing from current search practices? Or will the combination of Google’s ‘Search’ and ‘I’m feeling lucky’ mean that such an approach to information retrieval remain as decorational toys.