Thoughts in the Wake of a Total Solar Eclipse

Eclipse shadow through tree leaves, over half occluded. Downtown Kansas City, August 21, 2017

Eclipse shadow through tree leaves, over half occluded. Downtown Kansas City, August 21, 2017.
Image property of John Keogh

In the early afternoon on August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse traversed the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. In Kansas City, morning storms cleared and blue sky opened just in time to view the event, from the first sliver of moon shadow through totality. It’s the only total solar eclipse I’ve witnessed. I’m struggling to put the experience into words.

I started studying astronomy in 2nd and 3rd grade. In 3rd grade, we had to write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up and the title of mine was “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Cosmologist.” Space was my first fascination and my first love.

I’ve seen partial solar eclipses in person. I’ve seen images of total eclipses and they’re beautiful. Astronomically speaking, eclipses aren’t that rare or complex. They happen pretty often, simple mass body physics.

So I expected the total eclipse to be spectacular, gorgeous. I expected it to be cool and interesting. I expected to be fascinated by it and by the effect it had on insects and animals. I expected to completely geek out over it.

I never expected it to be so powerful.

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Serendipitous Discovery: A Critical Perspective

Given my passion for serendipitous discovery in libraries, I was delighted to read this paper by Patrick L. Carr:

Serendipity in the Stacks: Libraries, Information Architecture, and the Problems of Accidental Discovery (PDF)

It had never occurred to me to consider serendipitous discovery from this angle before. Serendipity can be construed as a failure of a user-centered information environment to properly meet the needs of a user. Perhaps serendipitous discovery isn’t a benefit so much as it’s a compensation mechanism for the failures of our search systems.

This suggests interesting avenues for inquiry and development. I think it’s a beneficial perspective. Serendipity isn’t all good and librarians should approach it strategically.

I’m particularly struck by this passage on page 18:

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My Path to Libraries

Another Personal Reflection Post

Sometimes it amazes me that it took so long for me to figure out that I could make my living working in libraries.

My mom loves to tell the story of when I was little and I proclaimed that when I grew up I wanted to live in a library. From my earliest memories, my concept of heaven has been a giant library. I went through a phase in junior high were I tried to sketch out my ideal home and the centerpiece of the house was a multistory library (also, a huge terrarium for a pet three-toed tree sloth… I was a strange young man.) During the years I lived in Chicago, I always said that if the apocalypse came, I’d barricade myself in Harold Washington Library and protect the books.

I’ve always felt at home in a library. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are when my mom worked in the history library on the local campus and I’d get to spend time wandering around in the stacks.
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Unintentional Knowledge

I love this article! It’s a wonderful summary of the real value of browsing the stacks.

Unintentional Knowledge: What We Find When We’re Not Looking by Julie Alves (posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 23, 2013)

As a professional librarian, I’m obsessed with the phenomenon of serendipitous discovery. Some of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life came to me by chance; I discovered some of my favorite books and authors simply by browsing the shelves at the library and allowing interesting things to catch my eye. I’m more grateful for these unlooked-for experiences than I can say.

With new digital content services, and with more libraries going towards automated storage and retrieval systems for their print collections, we’re challenged to find ways to maintain the possibility of non-targeted browsing and unanticipated discovery under these new conditions.
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On Robotic Libraries and Serendipity

The James B. Hunt Jr. Library
The James B. Hunt Jr. Library at NC State University

I just saw this article online today:

Let’s Hope Snøhetta’s New Robotic Library At NC State Isn’t Run By An Evil Super Computer

I think this library is absolutely gorgeous! I really like how peaceful and bright and comfortable it looks inside.

I find this type of robotic technology fascinating. We know that it works – the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago is testament enough to that. Space and storage have been perpetual challenges for libraries for a long, long time. This represents an elegant and cost-effective solution. As one who has long been interested in archival work, I’m excited by the potential this technology has for that field, as well.
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