Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Department Directories 2.0

When I was going through the wonderful experience of the job market this past fall (score: 41 apps, 1 request for additional materials, 2 MLA interviews, 0 campus visits [thus far]), I spent a lot of time looking at department directories. You do this so you can get a sense of the department. You want to know how many other Americanists there are, how many people that do contemporary lit, how many people whose work you already know or should know. These are--apparently--important considerations when writing your cover letter and become even more important when you have interviews with schools. I say apparently because in practice my cover letters changed most frequently in response to the job ad. It was interesting exercise in fantasizing, however, to get a sense of who all these departments were and who my potential colleagues could be.

There seem to be two ways of creating online directories. There is the helpful version, of which Rutgers has an example. You get a page that lists people's names, but also where they received their Ph.D. and, most importantly, what their interests are. If you want to know more about a particular faculty member, you just click on his or her name and get a new page. There you get publication information, courses taught, etc. But the key here is that you can find out people's scholarly interests all on one page.

This one-page approach is what separates the helpful version from its counterpart: the we-want-you-to-click-a-lot (WWYTCAL) version. An example of this can, sadly, be found on the English department site here at Emory. Now, I can't deny that this page looks beautiful. It's certainly nicer looking than Rutgers's site. But the fact is that if I were trying to learn about Emory's faculty, I would have to open 43 separate pages (doing so is made much easier with the Snap Links add on for Firefox). I'd be sure to learn something interesting on each one, where all the same information as on Rutgers's site is present: publications, place of degree, courses taught, etc. But clicking through to each of these pages, multiplied by 26 other schools--my non-scientific data survey related to my job search indicates that 66% of departments go for the WWYTCAL version--is a LOT of pages to sift through.

Enter SIMILE (again) and its Exhibit javascript (again). Using these tools and a Google Spreadsheet (again), I've developed a dynamic department directory of the Emory graduate students. Not only can you see up front what people's interests and specialties are, but you can do a text search through the directory or use the attributes at the right to pull up what you want. Want to know all the people in the department who do 18th British lit? You've got it. Want to know who is interested in "Trauma Theory"? There you go. Want to know who does Caribbean lit and Victorian fiction? Alsjeblieft.

You'll notice that there are four different views on the page currently. The "Thumbnail" view in particular has not been polished and would look a lot better if it featured some photos of the grad students. But you get a sense of the different view options that have been built into the Exhibit code. My favorite is the "Hometowns" view, the data for which was initially provided by Shawn McCauley's post here. I like the map view because it gives a different sense of who we are as a department. If I had more time, I would go on and add a view to see where the grad students received their various degrees before coming to the Ph.D. program at Emory.

I've started work on a faculty directory for the department, but my attention is needed elsewhere in ECIT at the moment, so I'm not sure when I'll get back to that. And I'll be the first to admit that my grad student directory isn't as pretty as the one Emory currently has for its faculty. But I like to think that mine would fall into the "helpful" or perhaps even "very helpful" category.

1 comment:

Carole said...

Brian, This is a good point and we'll take it into consideration as we redesign other sites in the College.