Serendip-o-matic logo

Serendip-o-matic is a search engine that connects your sources to digital materials located in libraries, museums, and archives around the world. By first examining your research interests, and then identifying related content in locations such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), Europeana, and Flickr Commons, Serendip-o-matic helps you discover photographs, documents, maps and other primary sources.

The Serendip-o-matic Hippo
The Serendip-o-matic Hippo

Serendip-o-matic extracts key terms from whatever text you enter into its search form (or even your bibliography from a Zotero collection) and returns a set of images that represent a surprising mirror of your interests. You simply submit whatever text you have (known as "feeding the beast" since, in the course of development the Serendip-o-matic Hippo became our unofficial mascot), and you get a table of images where the metadata matches the keyterms from your text. Because the tool is designed mostly for inspiration, search results aren't meant to be exhaustive, but rather suggestive, pointing you to materials you might not have discovered. At the very least, the magical input-output process helps you step back and look at your work from a new perspective. The idea is to replicate the now old-fashioned experience of wandering through the book stacks of a library and finding an interesting and useful book next to the one you were looking for.

I worked as part of a team of designers and developers under the auspices of the One Week | One Tool event, an open-source software-development institute sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and hosted by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The goal of the project was to build a research and teaching tool from conception to launch in one work week, a sort of digital humanities "barn raising". I was one of twelve scholars, students, librarians, and museum professionals who converged on CHNM in the summer of 2013 to take on this challenge. The process was summarized in our press release and you can read more about One Week One Tool by members of the group. Get another perspective from the view photos and video clips in our Flickr group or read what others say about Serendip-o-matic. You can also find an account of the making of Serendip-o-matic in my blog post .

Serendip-o-matic launched on August 2, 2013. It was the 2013 DH Awards winner for Best Use of DH or Fun and the Charleston Advisor Readers Choice Awards winner for Best New Mobile App in 2014. Since then, the team has moved on to other things, and the project has not been maintained. The website is still accessible, but CHNM has disabled its functionality, leaving only information about the project and the team. You can still clone the Github repository and install it on your own machine, and, if they digital libraries have not changed their APIs, it should still work. For some discussion about the graceful degradation of the project, see Brian Croxall's blog post from our panel at the 2014 Digital Humanities conference in Lausanne, Switzerland.