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Journal cover: Journal of Documentation

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Online from: 1945

Subject Area: Library and Information Studies

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Coming across information serendipitously – Part 2: A classification framework

Document Information:
Title:Coming across information serendipitously – Part 2: A classification framework
Author(s):Stephann Makri, (UCL Interaction Centre, University College London, London, UK), Ann Blandford, (UCL Interaction Centre, University College London, London, UK)
Citation:Stephann Makri, Ann Blandford, (2012) "Coming across information serendipitously – Part 2: A classification framework", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 68 Iss: 5, pp.706 - 724
Keywords:Chance, Classification, Classification schemes, Encountering, Information discovery, Serendipitous, Serendipity
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/00220411211256049 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:The authors would like to thank the interviewees for participating, James Lawley for his insightful comments on an early draft and the reviewers for their highly valued feedback. This work is supported by EPSRC project EP/H042741 (see

Purpose – In “Coming across information serendipitously – Part 1: a process model” the authors identified common elements of researchers' experiences of “coming across information serendipitously”. These experiences involve a mix of unexpectedness and insight and lead to a valuable, unanticipated outcome. In this article, the authors aim to show how the elements of unexpectedness, insight and value form a framework for subjectively classifying whether a particular experience might be considered serendipitous and, if so, just how serendipitous.

Design/methodology/approach – The classification framework was constructed by analysing 46 experiences of coming across information serendipitously provided by 28 interdisciplinary researchers during critical incident interviews. “Serendipity stories” were written to summarise each experience and to facilitate their comparison. The common elements of unexpectedness, insight and value were identified in almost all the experiences.

Findings – The presence of different mixes of unexpectedness, insight and value in the interviewees' experiences define a multi-dimensional conceptual space (which the authors call the “serendipity space”). In this space, different “strengths” of serendipity exist. The classification framework can be used to reason about whether an experience falls within the serendipity space and, if so, how “pure” or “dilute” it is.

Originality/value – The framework provides researchers from various disciplines with a structured means of reasoning about and classifying potentially serendipitous experiences.

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