Arch. J. indexes – sounding a death knell or heralding a new age?

I have, for longer than I care to remember, maintained membership of the Royal Archaeological Institute. It is an organisation that anyone can join and for a relatively modest sum each year receive a copy of the Archaeological Journal, the summary of the annual field trip, attend lectures if you so desire and use the library of the Society of Antiquaries. I think the latter was the reason I joined, and membership has had its uses in the past. I also like the fuzzy glow I get from supporting the grants and awards the institute makes to students and researchers. As an archaeologist who hasn’t done any archaeology for a long time I’ve been content to let the President and the various Council members, drawn from the great and the good of the profession largely get on with running the organisation on my behalf. Until yesterday.

Inside their latest newsletter, Number 47, dated April 2014, is a request for members to indicate whether they would want to pay £35 for a cumulative index to volumes 161 to 170, which have been published over the last 10 years. While not all members actually seem to want an index, it seems a bit steep to ask those that do to stump up for something which used to be provided as part of the subscription because each journal itself was indexed. And particularly so when the RAI is sitting on a healthy looking bank balance.

Indexes to journals are most useful when they summarise the work over a period of time, making it possible to compare what has been done in different time periods. A decade’s worth of work can show how an organisation is changing what it does, where it puts its emphasis and, by what is omitted, where it could plan to do so in the future. For a researcher having a cumulative index can make it really very easy to track down examples of things spread over many volumes. An index can also help you find things you had realised you needed to look for! The item in the newsletter mentions word-searches and e-journals as a possible way forward. The Society of Indexers has some useful things to say about why word-searches aren’t as good as human made indexes in electronic books and journals.

If you’re a member of the RAI, please do contact David Hinton, the President of the society, to make your views on indexing the journals felt. But note that the newsletter got his email address wrong (again), so you’ll need to contact  him via the address on this page. I’ve already sent him mine and I think we’ve started a useful dialogue.

If you’re a member of a learned society, take a look at how they do their indexing now and if they’re going to make any changes in the near future.


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