Current awareness needs to get more…current.

Now that faculty outreach and collection development for English and American literature are officially part of my job description, I've been making an effort to stay more up-to-date with the field. I'm scanning a much bigger field than I used to when I was a grad student in English, though, and I have fewer hours in the day to scan it in. Gone are the days when I could spend hours combing through the MLA Bibliography to find everything ever written in my sub-sub-specialty. Instead, I'm using as many shorcuts as possible. I've got RSS feeds to notify me when new journal issues come out, and when new books in relevant subject areas are published. I read blogs. I skim tables of contents and keep a running file of topics that scholars are currently working on. The start of a new semester reminds me to look over the course list for the English department and see if there are areas where I need to think about developing the collection. And so on.

I've also realized that I've come to expect certain tools to be available as part of my current awareness repertoire, and to work well. It strikes me as odd when journals don't have RSS feeds for new issues. I roll my eyes at databases that only offer email alerts, because come on, it's the 21st century—who needs more email when there are other tools that work better? I'm surprised at any online scholarly resource that expects me to bookmark it and check back frequently for updates. It's not like the technology to simplify the current awareness process is new, after all. Or obscure. Or hard to implement.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it would be useful to have the University of Pennsylvania Calls for Papers mailing list on my radar again, after being unsubscribed for at least the last four years. But it's no longer even a mailing list; it's now a web-only archive. Without anything resembling an RSS feed. I tried to kluge together a homemade RSS feed, using first Page2RSS and then Feedity, but with no luck. The CFP announcements are divided up among separate pages for different fields, so one would have to set up individual feeds for each page (and get lots of redundant results, because they cross-post a lot of the multidisciplinary calls for papers). I futzed around with Yahoo! Pipes for a while, trying to combine multiple feeds and de-duplicate the repeated announcements. But something about the way the CFP pages are set up confuses both Page2RSS and Feedity such that they can't tell which announcements are new. At which point I gave up because it was becoming too much of a time-sink even for me.

So, basically, there's no way to monitor the Calls for Papers archive except by revisiting the site, page by page, whenever I manage to remember to do so. As the kids today say: EPIC FAIL.

Not long after I abandoned Project Roll My Own CFP Feed, I learned from a friend on Twitter that there won't be any internet access at all at the upcoming MLA convention. Which, in this day and age, is even more of an epic fail. I'm thinking, not at all for the first time, that the humanities badly need an influx of hackers, programmers, and tinkerers.*

* The nice thing about my current career path is that I can say this kind of thing and people nod in agreement and suggest nifty solutions I hadn't heard of before, instead of looking at me askance like they're wondering why I care so much about this newfangled interweb contraption.

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