One of the best things about libraries, both in person and online, is the possibility of discovering something interesting just by chance. Think about the time you headed to the fiction section containing your favorite author – Walter Dean Myers perhaps — only to discover that very close by was a book with an interesting cover by L.A. Meyer. Pulling it off the shelf you take it home and discover that the saga of Bloody Jack now becomes a new addition to your afternoon reading. Serendipity – the “good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries”– can happen when we are able to take a moment to side-step our focused mission and take in our surroundings. Browsing in libraries exemplifies the best of serendipity.
My “go-to” magazine for interesting and unusual information is the Smithsonian magazine. It contains a most amazing array of content that covers science, psychology, literature, and history all in one issue. There is always an interesting inquiry lurking within its covers. In the November 2015 issue, I discovered that the blobfish was voted the “the earth’s most hideous species” in a poll by Britain’s Ugly Animal Preservation Society. [p.20]. It was thought to be endangered. But it isn’t. It seemed that at one time the blobfish was beginning to disappear, but it turns out that it was – quite literally – hiding. It was such an unusual topic and I filed it away to research more a bit later, but a few days later I categorized the article as an interesting read, and passed the magazine on to a friend.
Then later in the week another little animal story showed up in our local newspaper about the discovery of a film made in 1950 about an initiative in Idaho to remove beavers from a populated area of Boise and relocate them in a wilderness area. The trouble was, there was no road into the area and so they faced a conundrum on how to do this. Their solution: fly them in via parachute. It was a tiny little article on one of the back pages and it really didn’t say much more than that the film had been recently discovered. But much like the blobfish, this was just too intriguing to ignore so a brief search of “parachuting beavers” found the University of Idaho website and a blog post from the Boise State Public Radio that tells the story. It seems that Fish and Game employee Elmo Heter figured out a way to parachute in the beavers using a design that allowed for minimum impact damage and quick release. After he perfected the device and tested it with the beavers, the story went far and wide. A movie was made about the many ways that the Fish and Game department handled animal ecosystems and it included footage of the “parachuting beavers.” As interest in the parachuting beavers waned, the movie was lost to the depths of historical records. But – through serendipity — Sharon Clark, the Fish and Game Historian discovered the long-lost film of the event titled: “Fur For the Future” and released it through the Boise State Public Radio. The film explains the many ways that animals were relocated throughout Idaho and included the clip from the parachuting beaver initiative.
These stories may seem flip or easily tossed aside as an historical or scientific oddity, but there’s magic in these kinds of stories. I imagine that “found knowledge” is something that all librarians capture and file away for that moment when some interesting tidbit is needed. Blobfish and parachuting beavers are both examples of this kind of strange knowledge we tend to hang on to.
But… just imagine… one day you’re at school and the annual animal project or science assignment appears at your door. Maybe you have that one student who shows up at your desk bemoaning the fact that there is nothing to write about or nothing quite so boring as having to write about an animal. You now have a smile on your face because you have magic in your back pocket. You have a story that could be the story that captures attention, creates a research path that would never have seen the light of day without your serendipitous reading.
Science assignment? Mr. Blobfish? Parachuting beavers?
[relocation, habitat, ecology, animal psychology] – how does relocating animals affect the local environment? How do animals adapt to new environments? What do we need to know about the deep ocean and human impact on their ecosystem?
[design, safety, physics] – How could you design a better transportation vehicle for getting beavers [or other animals] into a wilderness area today? What changes in technology had to occur to make your vehicle different from that created in the early 1950s? What math is needed to calculate the best method of transporting these animals?
[conservation, personality] – why are people willing to save cuddly animals, but not ugly animals? How – and why – do we define “ugly” in either animals or humans? What are the ethics of transporting animals from one ecosystem to another?
[technology] – what are the impact of the environmental decisions that were made in the past and how what have we learned about making these kinds of important decisions?
What other questions might either of these articles generate? What if we used these articles as
“Blobfish, blogfish, JELL-O of the sea
Floats upon the bottom, lazy as can be…
Hardly has a muscle, but doesn’t seem to mind.
It eats what floats into it’s mouth- crustaceans and some brine” [p.20]
Is there more to this than a laugh in an otherwise ordinary day? Seems to me that if we can introduce curiosities into our students lives, then maybe we are also introducing curiosity… and that’s a good thing.
Elgood, Simon. “Blobfish.” Flickr Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 4 Dec.
Lidz, Franz. “Behold the Blobfish”. Smithsonian, November 2015. print.
“Serendipity.” Vocabulary.com. 2015. Vocabulary.com. Web. 3 Dec.
Wright, Samantha. “Remember The Parachuting Beavers Story? Now There’s Video!”
Boise State Public Radio. Boise State Public Radio, 22 Oct. 2015. Web. 3
Dec. 2015. .
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!