Many newspapers, journals and organisations put out lists of ‘books of the year’ in the pre-Christmas period. While the process is all about selling more books (and who thinks that’s a bad thing), it also recognises good solid book production values. The lists usually include one or more non-fiction categories, ranging from cookery to science, history and memoir to sport and beyond. These books need good solid indexes to complete the package so it is great to see so many titles on the lists this year that include indexes made by Society of Indexers members. Well done everyone who gets recognised in this way. Not all members work in areas that will ever get this kind of public recognition but it all helps to remind editors and publishers that indexes matter. Here’s a link to the Society of Indexers news.
This week saw the launch of the long anticipated new Society of Indexers website. Featuring a new modern design, the site retains information useful for anyone interested in indexing, needing an indexer or looking for more information. The facility for finding indexers has also been updated, so I also took the opportunity to sweep some dusty corners here and rejig things a bit too.
The project outlined in my previous blog, see below, also published a ‘project report‘.
This discusses indexes in the following part:
- para 146 – Enhanced monographs – Scholarly monographs, even the simplest of them, and even in print form, have intricate organisational structures, notes, indexes, tables of content, sections, tables, illustrations. Given this, they are not
particularly well served by current ebook reading devices; enhanced monographs might represent better the complexities of scholarly argument than the less functional ebook. …
The section on Enhanced monographs goes on to give examples of different projects which have created ‘enhanced monographs. The terms ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘innovative’ and ‘promising’ are used to describe them. Then comes ‘costly’, ‘time-consuming’, ‘not scalable’. So while some high-profile projects have been created, there’s little here about indexes per se, and no anticipation of what could be created using existing standards such as EPUB 3.
Another section of the report looks at new digital developments and discusses open access, the Books as Open Online Content developed as part of the project, and other experimental digital offerings. Then something on non-textual PhD theses, and finally the problems of digital preservation. Information retrieval for the users of these services is not gone into in any detail. This is disappointing because without adequate ways of finding material, full use of all that publishing effort and storage for posterity will not be achieved.
A two-year project that ran between October 2014 and September 2016, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and run in partnership with the British Library. The successful bidder was The Department of Information Studies, University College London.
The output of the project included reports, conferences, talks, twittering, all the usual things you might expect. The final reports were published in early 2017 and included things of interest to indexers and those concerned for the future of them.
The volume entitled Academic Books and their Future, authored by Michael Jubb, a consultant to the project includes the following statements about indexes:
- para 43 – … readers, however, may read only those sections of particular interest to them, or dip in to find specific pieces of information; which is why for print books in particular the
apparatus of tables of contents and indexes are of particular importance.
- para 46 – In addition to publishers and the freelance copyeditors, typesetters, designers and indexers they employ, the supply chain for academic books involves sales agents, distributors, wholesalers, libraries andlibrary suppliers, booksellers (online as well as on high streets and campuses), e-book aggregators and platform providers,
bibliographic data suppliers, and many others.
- para 167 – The formidable advantages of print books—especially for the complex structures typical of academic titles with their tables of contents, sections, chapters, indexes, figures, and tables, illustrations, notes and references, and so on—are well-recognised in the academic community. But they are accompanied by a number of limitations, which e-books have the potential to overcome. Full realisation of such potential is still some way off, however, not least because both most authors and editors (including copy editors and
typesetters) have relatively little experience in enriching their texts to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by digital technologies.
- para 168 – … (in e-books) readers can benefit from in-text searching as against the manual use of printed tables of contents and indexes that can be highly variable in comprehensiveness and quality.
- page 356 – on the production of Open Access books … Ubiquity Press, for example, currently has a basic Book Processing Charge of £3,780 for a book of 100,000 words, rising to £5,920 if copy editing and indexing is included in the service…
So, indexes are important for the future of academic books, there is still a place for them, however the opportunities of e-books are not being realised at this stage, and sometimes the quality of indexing could be better. The price for copy-editing and indexing 100,000 words is estimated at £2,140.
Let’s take a quick look at those prices. Checking the Ubiquity Press site today we find that the guide price has increased by 18.5% to £4,480 for the basic book and £6,900 for the copy-edit and index package. The index page is costed at £880, and copy-editing £1,540, a total of £2,420, an increase of 13%, which suggests the costs of book production have risen more rapidly than those of copy-editing and indexing. Whilst only a guide to authors, I think they are using reasonable estimates and the prices for any individual book may vary.
Meeting these costs is an issue for authors publishing Open Access reports as the burden largely falls on individual universities and research institutions as research funding, particularly in arts and humanities, where project grants usually come from a variety of sources throughout the life of a project. Even when authors are not publishing Open Access texts, there will be costs for indexing and copy-editing that they may have to bear, either through the project funding or as individuals. This is one of the reasons why authors may decide they want to index their own texts. However, The Society of Indexers encourages authors to consider using a professional indexer and stresses the indexer’s role as a collaborator bringing professional indexing skills, objectivity and a fresh approach to the topic, that of a potential reader or learner, as well as subject knowledge of the topic.
A two-day conference at the Weston Library, organised by Dennis Duncan and the Centre for the Study of the Book, Oxford University. 22nd-23rd June 2017. An opportunity for academics and professionals to meet and and talk about indexes.
I must admit to having been slightly sceptical about booking for this event. It was timed to follow on from the Society of Indexers’ annual conference, could I bear to be sitting around for another two days? Who were the speakers, would they all be dry-as-dust old duffers? (With apologies to Oxford dons, I’ve been there and got the t-shirt, I know what they can be like.) Would it all be too esoteric for a jobbing indexer to understand?
I needn’t have worried on any count. The lecture theatre in the Weston Library is a great place. The seats are comfy, the tables are welcome, the sound is mostly good and the screen clear. I sat in a chair named after the Duke of Wellington.
The speakers were all young academics in the early stages of their careers and they were full of interesting material, delivered in a clear and enthusiastic voices. Young in this context means younger than me. The full programme is available here. You can see the programme covered topics including: indexing in 19th century China, Heidegger and Cassirer, indexes to the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, satiric indexes, Richard Hakluyt and the Indexes of Francis Daniel Pastorius. See Paula’s excellent blog for reviews and summaries of the talks here. There really isn’t any point in me covering the same ground.
The availability of wi-fi to check out some things as some of the speakers spoke – who were Hakluyt and Pastorius? Why might they be of interest to indexers? – was very useful. The speakers didn’t always have time to give the background that might be obvious to students of old books and manuscripts, but wasn’t for some of us. While some of it may have gone over our heads, I think when we read the articles when they are printed, we will understand more.
Two days flew by. The lunches were yummy. Attendees were also invited to the opening of the Jane Austen exhibition at the Weston Library, which was lovely too. A good time was had. Academics became aware of indexers, and indexers were made aware of the range of scholarship which is taking in aspects of indexing. Ruth made a Storify of the event using Twitter tweets, which is here. When can we do it again?
Why go to a small conference where you know most of the people and you’re all in the same line of business? What’s the point? What will you learn? Who will you meet?
Facets of indexing: the diamond anniversary conference of the Society of Indexers was held at St Anne’s College, Oxford on 21 June 2017.
Answering the last question first, you will meet people from across the world. The conference was attended by 71 people, 11 of whom gave addresses outside of the UK. The UK attendees represent only about one-sixth of the membership of the society, but were drawn from all over the country. Those from outside the UK included off-shore members of the society, representatives from our sister organisations in the USA, Australia, and the Netherlands, and representatives from indexing software companies. When you’re working away at home, on your own, I think it’s easy to forget that you’re actually part of a global activity. I spoke with an Australian indexer about my experiences working on projects where the volume editor was in mainland Europe, I am in the UK and the production editor is in Canada. She mentioned similar experiences.
What will you learn at the conference? The conference covered a range of topics and ran workshops and seminars concurrently. It can be difficult to choose what might be of most use or interest. On reflection, I learned a lot of things about the current state of indexing and better practice.
After the welcoming speech we split into subject areas to discuss current situation in our field. In the history and archaeology group we talked about how we tackle issues such as names, alternative international names for events (Battle of Austerlitz or Slavkova? or of the Three Emperors?), any experiences we had had with producing indexes for e-books or embedding.
The opening lecture from Philip Shaw, of Oxford Brookes International Centre for Publishing, on current developments in the publishing industry gave a rapid summary of recent trends, markets and technologies. It’s good to know where you sit in the scheme of things.
The conference also covered the AGM business, had awards for services to indexing and new indexers presented by the President of the Society, Sam Leith, and discussed society business. It’s good to keep in touch with the Executive Board, and I was elected to sit on it for three years. So perhaps I’ll learn more about that soon.
After lunch I attended Christopher Phipps’ workshop on lives in miniature: indexing biographies and other life writings. One session a year with Christopher is never enough to cover all you might want to ask of him. This year he introduced the idea of a cast of characters in a biography and how you might approach indexing five groups: the main character (the hero or heroine of the book), the lead supporting actors (the family and other significant people), the secondary players who appear repeatedly but irregularly, the walk-on parts who appear with some frequency but don’t say or do much, and the expert witnesses who could be people or significant works by the subject.
After a coffee break a number of us discussed working efficiently – tips, tricks and avoiding bad habits. OHIO – only handle it once is something to aspire to in making indexes. Some indexers spend a lot of time editing and working on their entries, others can create an index and spend very little time editing. I suspect that sometimes the amount of handling may have to do with the subject area and the kind of book involved. A text book may lend itself to more OHIO than a biography or philosophy book. Setting targets for time spent doing things is always good advice, as is turning off the distractions and ensuring you have templates for common types of email and other business needs. A collaborative approach involving other indexers or proof readers was also discussed as a way of making more efficient use of your time.
We then all met to listen to Pilar Wyman and Pierke Bosschieter discuss how indexers could influence the future of linked indexes in e-books. Pierke is an enthusiastic adopter of technology for reading and has reviewed many formats for e-books and devices. Pilar reviewed some approaches to linked indexes and went on to look at the EPub3 standard and how it could be used for better navigation. As with paper-based indexes of the past, an index in an e-book is part of the marketing strategy of the publisher. Why include it if it is of no use to anyone? Why not make a great one that helps the reader?
So the point of going to our conferences is to meet people, learn things and have time to reflect on indexing practice. Here’s Ruth’s Storify if you want to find out more.
Next year we’re heading north to Lancaster, concurrently with our sister organisation the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. An interesting time should be had by all.
As a Society of Indexers trained indexer I work under the tenets of BS ISO 999:1996 Information and documentation — Guidelines for the content, organisation and presentation of indexes. This states, among other things, that the function of an index is to provide the user with an efficient means of tracing information. The indexer should therefore:
a) identify and locate relevant information within the material being indexed;
b) discriminate between information on a subject and passing mention of a subject;
c) exclude passing mention of subjects that offer nothing significant to the potential user.
Passing mentions are an item or concept mentioned incidentally in the text but lacking worthwhile information about the item or concept itself. Mere mentions of the existence of something that does not provide at least one fact should be avoided in an index. Generally I try not include locators where no substantial information is provided.
Passing mentions typically fall into four main types:
- examples (Many marsupials, including possums and bilbies, are nocturnal – entry would be marsupials or nocturnal animals, not possums or bilbies),
- lists of things or people (the group subject is the entry if it needs one)
- asides (as my predecessor, Dr Jones, might have done – no entry for Jones)
- scene setting may include passing mentions that are not followed up with what follows.
In the age of Big Data and ctrl+f searches it can seem quaint and outdated in that as an indexer I have to try and assume the role of reader and what they might be looking for and make judgements. But that’s the advantage of having a human being do the job, not a computer. However, I also have to ensure the terms used are appropriate and will
- quickly establish the presence or absence of information on a specific subject in an unfamiliar work [the new reader or browser],
- quickly retrieve information on a remembered item in a known or partially known work [someone who has already read all or part].
The first will let someone know if the book is worth reading, the second helps them find things when they return to it.
So I try to find relevant information, concentrating on the ‘aboutness’ of each section, and generate ways of readers finding material they might want. Indexing is an art, and as such every indexer will without doubt produce a slightly different take on any particular text, they might choose different ways of saying things, they might select different pages. But each would produce a usable index.
However, there are occasions when including every mention might be appropriate, such as family or local histories that include lots and lots of names, and deciding when it is appropriate is what sets indexers apart from mere machines.
The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and designated 30 March as the first National Indexing Day to raise awareness of this essential profession.
The Society has seen many changes in book production and indexing methods during that time. Gone are index cards, going out are paper prints and highlighter pens, in are specialised software packages, coming in are e-pub books with linked indexes. I wonder what the next 60 years will bring?
Media coverage included an article by Society of Indexers President Sam Leith which explains a lot about what indexers do – see here. And the following week there was a podcast by Sam and Dennis Duncan discussing the history of indexing. Listen here.
Here’s a Storify of the coverage we got – National Indexing Day.
Voting recently took place for the 2017 Current Archaeology awards, including the Book of the Year. The winner was Images of the Ice Age (Paul Bahn) – this book has an index that the publisher owns up to, but I can’t see it or any reviews of it.
So, what of the indexes in the other books? Might considering the usefulness of the index have helped voters decide the best book?
Celts: art and identity (Julia Farley and Fraser Hunter) – there is an index, and it has been described as “workable” – which might be damning it with faint praise. I haven’t seen this book, so can’t comment further.
St Kilda: the last and outmost isle (Angela Gannon and George Geddes) – also listed for a British Archaeological Award – I can’t find whether this book has an index or not, or a reviewer who has commented on it.
Bog Bodies Uncovered (Miranda Aldhouse-Green) – a reviewer on GoodReads said the index was “nice”. But that’s all I can find.
The Home Front in Britain 1914-1918 (C Appleby, W Cocroft, J Schofield) – Council for British Archaeology Handbook. But I can’t find any reference to this book having an index.
Ritual in Early Bronze Age Grave Goods (Ann Woodward and John Hunter) This is book is ordered by item type and there is an index of grave groups and objects studied in detail, which is in itself very detailed.
Hidden Histories: a spotters guide to the British landscape (Mary-Ann Ochota) Seems to contain an index of places, as the book is arranged by theme there may have been no need for anything more. The index was prepared by a Society of Indexers member.
A Tale of the Axe: how the Neolithic revolution transformed Britain (David Miles) This book has an index, but that’s pretty much all I can say. An indexer has told me that the index was “good, helpful, and well constructed”. So that’s OK then.
So, what do we learn from this review? Not much I am sad to say. The books in question are not generally available to ‘look inside’ on Amazon, and the publishers don’t make much of the indexes as a selling point. Also, the reviews I found seem slightly shy of mentioning the index. Maybe this was because of space constraints, or possibly because the reviewers only know a good index by the fact it wasn’t bad. The index probably wouldn’t have made or broken the chances of any of these books succeeding in the Current Archaeology awards, however, the absence of an index, or a poor index can impact on the chances of a user making full use of the information contained in the book.