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.