Indexing – what we did in the past, what we’re doing now and what we will do in the future – is being discussed a lot these days. In case you missed some of the more recent items (which I did what with moving across the oceans, getting married and trying to keep up with all the paperwork related to both), I thought a round up was in order.
Back When: Sometimes it’s about the days gone by – which very frequently involved indexers noodling on the same sort of things I noodle on today. Such as, the increasingly (worryingly) blank spot where indexes used to be. This is an issue that never goes away. Even ‘back in the day’ – the day in this case being January 4, 1902 – it was a concern as you can see from this piece from in the New York Times that stated:
“To say that every book that needs an index ought to have an Index may seem superfluous, but that it is not so is shown by the frequent publication by some of our best publishers of works which are almost useless from the absence of a proper key to their treasury of facts. (If you’d like to read the whole thing, it is available in the New York Times online archives – one of my favorite places to spend time online in PDF form.)
Right Now: A slightly more currently piece on indexing (more current in this case being 110 years more current) appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (@chronicle) a few months ago – a 3 part series by Carol Saller (aka The Subversive Copy Editor – @SubvCopyEd) and I have to say, it’s like someone was reading my mind.
Book Indexing, Part 1: Is a Computer the Right Person for the Job?: “Back-of-the-book indexing is much misunderstood, which I know from having to argue at cocktail parties that it cannot be done adequately, let alone well, by a computer. (Yes, unfortunately, that’s what passes for cocktail-party banter in my neighborhood.)” Mine too. Or it would if I’d been to any cocktail parties lately. But the point is “Yes, indexers USE computers but computers are indexing tools, not indexers themselves. If what you want is a concordance, that’s a different matter… but we’re talking about indexing. A different thing all together. Concordances show the location of words in the text while indexes show that but are really about directing readers via the relationship between words and – importantly – concepts as well. Concepts don’t factor at all in a concordance.
Book Indexing, Part 2: Infinite Loops and Easter Eggs: “Many readers are unaware of the mischief book indexers get up to…” Let us NEVER speak of that! Oh… she meant indexing mischief. A very amusing collection of indexing “Easter eggs”and it reminded me of one of my favorite indexing stories – this one relating to the late Gore Vidal. As you may (or may not know), Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer had a rather – well, tetchy relationship. Vidal had a new book coming out and he knew that Mailer would look himself up in the index before looking at anything else. So Vidal left a message of sorts where he knew Mailer would see it right away. The index entry for Normal Mailer read simply “”Mailer, Norman: Hi, Norm.” Quite aaprt from Easter eggs and “hidden in plain sight” messages – indexing IS fun. There are almost always entries that make me smile if not out right laugh – even the most serious of books.
Book Indexing, Part 3: Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers: “To gauge your own aptitude, you might look at the indexing chapter of The Chicago Manual of Style. If it freaks you out, well, that might tell you something.” There are times that the indexing chapter still freaks me out. These days I find it rather compforting. Having moved to the UK where indexes are a tad different. Not a LOT different but… well, you know how they drive on the other side of the road here? Still a car, still operates the same way – just in a slightly different space? Like that.
Some Day: The ongoing and ever broadening conversation (sometimes debate) on the future of publishing – the impact of the eBook, self-publishing, size and demographic of the reading population, the closure of so many libraries and slashing of budgets at so many others – includes a sub-conversation about indexes. Are they a necessity or a luxury book pricing cannot withstand? For myself, I think for some books they ARE necessary and to try and justify leaving an index out based solely on the impact it would have on the price of the book is VERY SMALL THINKING indeed. The question of how to best index eBooks – well, that’s a whole post on its own but I absolutely agree that Search Can’t Replace a High-Quality Index).
Now that we are (mostly) unpacked and things are returning to normal after a crazy but fantastic bi-locational, transatlantic year – I promise I’ll get back to updating more frequently. Goodness knows I have enough to say 🙂