cataloguing in Thylstrup 2019

he engineering of
serendipity removes the very chance of serendipity. As Nicholas Carr notes,
“Once you create an engine—a machine—to produce serendipity, you destroy the
essence of serendipity. It becomes something expected rather than
unexpected.”84 It appears, then, that computational methods have introduced
historians and literary scholars to the same “beaverish efforts”85 to
domesticate serendipity as the hard sciences had to face at the beginning of
the twentieth century.

To my knowledge, few systematic studies exist about whether mass digitization
projects such as Europeana and Google Books hamper or foster creative and
original research in empirical terms. How one would go about such a study is
also an open question. The dichotomy between digital and analog does seem a
bit contrived, however. As Dan Cohen notes in a blogpost for DPLA, “bookstores
and libraries have their own forms of ‘serendipity engineering,’ from
storefront staff picks to behind-the-scenes cataloguing and shelving methods
that make for happy accidents.”86 Yet there is no doubt that the discourse of
serendipity has been infused with new life that sometimes veers toward a
“spectacle of serendipity.”87

Over the past decade, the digital infrastructures that organize our cultural
memory have become increasingly integrated in a digital economy that valuates
“experience” as a cultural currency that can be exchanged to profit, and our
affective meanderings as a form of industrial production. This digital economy
affects the architecture and infrastructure of digital archives. The archival
discourse on digital serendipity is thus now embroiled in a more deep-seated
infrapolitics of workspace architecture, influenced by Silicon Valley’s
obsession with networks, process, and connectivity.88 Think only of the
increasing importance of Google and Facebook to mass digitization projects:
most of these projects have a Facebook page on which they showcase their
material, just as they tak


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