The Society of Indexers is holding an afternoon online conference for anyone who needs to know more about working with book indexers. The programme and booking details are here. But we’ll be covering the following:
- The case for indexes and human indexers
- Finding a professional indexer
- Briefing the indexer
- Reviewing and checking the index
- Indexing new and updated editions
- Further resources and workshops
National Indexing Day was established in March 2017 to commemorate the diamond anniversary of the founding of the Society of Indexers. Since then, celebrations of indexing have taken place at live events, online and in the media. Indexers, authors and publishers have joined in enthusiastically to salute these ‘unsung heroes of the publishing world’, in Sam Leith’s words in The Guardian. This year we will be celebrating with a online event for publishers, as well as online across social media.
The date marks the anniversary of the founding of the Society, which was formally constituted at the premises of the National Book League in London on 30 March 1957 by G. Norman Knight and colleagues. The Society of Indexers is the only autonomous professional body for indexers in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is associated with other indexing organisations around the world. Its aims are to promote indexing, the quality of indexes and the profession of indexing. Membership includes specialist indexers across the UK, working for authors and publishers in more than a hundred different subjects, from accountancy to zoology.
On another page this site tells you that I index books on archaeology and history. My educational and professional background is in archaeology, although I’ve done lots of other things. I’m still interested in the field and I love all the public outreach broadcasting such as ‘Digging for Britain’, an excellent programme that has improved this year by including more about new techniques for extracting information from the ground, from artefacts and bones. There’s something for everyone in archaeological publishing, from introductory books for the general reader or undergraduate student through to site reports, academic monographs, collections of papers and society journals.
So, why the need for a blog about indexing archaeological books? Why do we need an index? What about searchable pdfs, aren’t they good enough?
As it says on the Society of Indexers’ website “An index is an ‘ordered arrangement of entries … designed to enable users to locate information in a document …” The ordering is usually alphabetical, as we all know what that means, even if we have to sing the song under our breath to get round all the letters. There are two main types of alphabetical ordering that indexers use, word-by-word and letter-by-letter, but we need not detain ourselves with the distinction at this point. But note that some publishers prefer one over the other.
Entries for archaeological books partly depend on the type of book and the readership it is aimed at.
- Excavation reports are typically laid out in a standard way that introduces the site, the features, the finds, the plant and faunal remains, human remains if there were any, dating and other scientific techniques, and some discussion that puts the site into context. If you are reading an excavation report you are looking for specific information about what was found, what date it was and what the interpretation was. An index will have headings all of those things. But it can do more because it can answer questions such as ‘What pottery was found in the pits on the western side?’ or ‘Which house had evidence for fabric production?’. By summarising the finds and other other evidence under the feature headings, the indexer can show the reader at a glance what came from where. Questions about artefactual evidence can be quickly summarised under material type headings – ‘Was there any gold?’, ‘Were there any swords?’, ‘What were the swords made of?’ Entries might be – copper alloy: sword, gold: ring, iron: spear; ring: gold, spear: iron, sword: copper alloy. Or ‘Was there any jewellery?’, ‘Was there evidence for textile manufacturing?’ Entries might be – jewellery: beads, rings, textile production: needles, spindle-whorls, beads: glass, gold, rings: copper alloy, needles: bone, copper alloy, iron, spindle-whorls: ceramic, shale.
- Monographs give the author the opportunity to look in depth at a particular site type, period, place, artefactual or environmental evidence. The author will have drawn together a lot of comparative data. The questions a reader might ask are probably centred around ‘What does the author say about x?’ The indexer has the chance to atomise that discussion into the relevant categories of evidence, the technological methods used to study them and the comparative examples given, in fact to show what the author has done with their time and research budget.
- Collections of papers can be tightly focussed on the subject, or more general in their scope. The challenge for the indexer is to highlight papers which are more closely related in their choice of subject, at the same time indicating the scope of the collection, whether geographical, temporal, technological or methodological.
- Society journals can contain a fascinating mix of papers in each edition. Individual volumes can be indexed or a cumulative index covering a longer period can be created. Both present indexers with a challenge because the level of detail being selected for the terms is often more generic than with excavation reports, monographs or collections of papers. Readers want to know quickly whether some place, site type or artefact is covered, as well as if there is anything relevant to the period they interested in.
- But what about all those Open Access books that don’t have indexes? Relying on searching a pdf for every question they might have about the content of a book is just such a waste of your readers’ time. You won’t get so many citations and your work won’t get the coverage it otherwise deserves. Searching a pdf relies on the word or closely related term actually being present in the text. The author might not have used the term the reader is looking for. A good indexer will put in alternative terms and either double enter the page numbers or cross-reference to them to give the reader the best experience. You can’t see the whole spread of information in an easily accessible form if you don’t have all the terms available.
To answer the questions I posed earlier:
- So, why the need for a blog about indexing archaeological books? To show what a good index can do.
- Why do we need an index? To help readers find useful information, even if they didn’t know they wanted it.
- What about searchable pdfs, aren’t they good enough? No, they are a wasted opportunity.
The publishing process can be long and drawn out. The current pandemic situation has caused a number of publishers to revise their publication schedules and push back publication dates for some titles. Various reasons such as delays in the editorial process, delays in print production, and lack of opportunities for promoting titles have all been suggested, among others.
Indexing usually happens right near the end of the publication schedule. If your non-fiction book has been pushed back for any reason, please think about your indexer for a moment.
If you have already contracted an indexer – please let them know about the delay and keep them updated as you get news from your publisher. We can usually juggle schedules a bit, but we aren’t mind readers. Many indexers will already be keeping in touch with their clients because that’s a professional thing to do, so please reply, even if you have no news, and contact your indexer if you haven’t heard from them. If a gap opens up in our schedule we might need to fill it with other work or we might need to contact other clients who were in the spot you now want if your title is pushed back.
If you haven’t already contracted an indexer – get one on board, even if it seems like it is going to be a long time until they need to work on your index. Having an idea of a schedule that stretches up to 3 or 4 months (or more) into the future helps us plan our workload and our opportunities for doing other things. Please don’t leave it too late, we would hate to turn your book down because we don’t have time in our schedules.
The Society of Indexers has had to cancel this year’s National Indexing Day event for editors because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a great shame because we love meeting editors and talking about indexing. However, all is not lost, and we will still be promoting indexing in the virtual world next week. Join us on Twitter @indexers or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SocietyofIndexers/ for more.
But if you’ve every wondered about doing some indexing, why not try our competition, https://www.indexers.org.uk/news/indexing-competition-2020 and it’s open to anyone who is not a member of an indexing society and is not working (and has never worked) as an indexer in a professional capacity.
Best of luck and hope we get lots of entries.
Having attended all the Society of Indexers’ conferences since 2014, taking in Cirencester, York, Birmingham, Oxford and Lancaster, it’s my turn as Chair of the society to invite members and other interested parties to our event in London in September. You can find out more on the Society of Indexers’ website.
I don’t get away with just meeting and greeting and having fun, I’m down to speak to new indexers.
I’ll be talking about
- finding first indexing jobs
- marketing to publishers
- other possible clients and where to find them
- dealing with potential clients
- how to ask questions to find out what they really want
- quoting – what are the options
- doing the job –
- approaching a whole new book,
- using software
- keeping records,
- checking the index and sending it off,
- feeding back comments and questions to the editor/client
- reviewing the process
But, if there’s anything else you think I should be covering, just let me know in good time before the conference.
For 2016 Author Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the 100 best non-fiction books. These are “key texts in English that have shaped our literary culture and made us who we are”, in the Anglo-American English language tradition, the list covers “essential works of philosophy, drama, history, science and popular culture”.
Number 11 is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Some things to look at in this index:
- The introductory note explains that the index can be used to look up references in the bibliography as well as in the book, the numbers in brackets refer to the bibliography. So – acquired characteristics 23 (139). That could be useful.
- The introductory note also says that common terms are not indexed every time they appear, and so they shouldn’t, but only in special places such as where they are defined. For example the term ‘allele’ has only one page number and a reference to the bibliography, but occurs in several other sections of the book. I’d have to read a bit to see if that means there are too few page numbers in the index.
- Most of the terms are not plurals. It can be tricky sometimes to consider if a term should be singular or plural nouns in an index. The rule of thumb is if it can be counted it should be plural, but if you say ‘how much’ then it is singular. The index should be consistent and the indexer should be aware of the context of the words to decide if a singular form is more appropriate than a plural. The index is consistent, so for example the types of animal mentioned in this index are singular.
The book has a relatively short index, only 7 pages for over 300 pages of text. The publisher may have decided that this was not to be a reference book and the lightness of the index reflects that.