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Society of Indexers conference 2016

For the first time in many years the SI conference was a one-day event. The venue, The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham, was a smart refurbishment of a 19th century building.

Ann Kingdom opened the conference and introduced the first session on ‘Ethics in Indexing’, based on Heather Ebbs’ presentation at the 2015 conference (Ebbs 2016). The discussions that followed were an ice-breaker for the many new and student indexers who attended the conference. Split into groups led by experienced indexers we discussed six ethical dilemmas: censorship of the index by the author, indexer beliefs clashing with an author’s, the quality of another indexer’s work, a lack of skill or subject expertise, making a table of contents into an index, and a client putting down the work of another indexer. The groups then reported their comments. This session was food for thought for everyone present.

The second session was a lecture by Alastair Horne, which looked back on, and predicted the future of, digital publishing. The previous five years had not turned out at all as Alastair had expected and the lack of e-book innovation was disappointing. It all comes down to costs and consumers are not keen on paying for additional content, because their expectations have been trained to expect e-books to be much cheaper than printed versions. He predicted that the future may hold fragmentation of the digital market with more formats sharing the publishing space. This could include an increasing diversity of routes to market. Crowdfunding sites, like Unbound, can introduce new authors to new reading markets. Subscription models need work on how to charge for a service that most subscribers actually use, unlike gyms, which make money from a service that most subscribers do not use. Serialisation takes us back to the days of Charles Dickens, where readers pay for parts of a book at a time. Scholarly publishing is also undergoing a period of change and development. New university presses, such as White Rose University Press, are publishing monographs and journals with a view to providing free access to digital content, without impacting on quality of content and standards of production. Knowledge Unlatched is also intent on providing free content through subscribing academic libraries.

After lunch we settled down for Dennis Duncan’s talk entitled ‘Filthy Talk, p. 2: scenes from the history of indexing’. The title was taken from a hand-written index he found in an early printed book. He covered early Bible concordances and how they contributed to the development of indexing and then offered cases of how 17th and early 18th century indexers used their political position or academic knowledge to create indexes that enraged the authors. This took us neatly back to the start of the conference and our discussion of ethics in indexing. The first example covered Boyle against Bentley, a collective effort to discredit Richard Bentley. Bentley had had the audacity to criticize Charles Boyle’s edition of the ancient Greek ‘Epistles of Phalaris’, stating that Boyle did not realise that the epistles were fake. The book includes a four page index of Bentley’s characteristics, for example, ‘His Egregious Dulness, p. 74…’ and ‘His Collection of Asinine Proverbs, p. 220’. Bentley may have been dull, but recent scholarship has shown he was correct and the Epistles were fake. In The Transactioneer, published in 1700, William King drew attention to the silliness he felt was contained in letters published by the Royal Society in their Philosophical Transactions. He used ironic and witty entries in a table of contents to highlight their lack of scientific thinking. In 1718, when clergyman Laurence Echard published his three volume History of England, he had not counted on his indexer taking issue with its politics and undermining the work with a series of subversive, occasionally sarcastic, index entries. Echard’s is a Tory version of English history and John Oldmixon – the indexer hired by Echard’s publisher, was a radical Whig. Much more of this sort of thing will be at the symposium on the history of the book index that Dennis is organising next year.

A choice of workshops completed the afternoon sessions. Janice Rayment presented two sessions on ‘Indexing with InDesign’. Panel-led discussions on ‘Indexing dilemmas’ and ‘Getting started’ were alternative choices for experienced and new indexers. The new indexers and trainees asked sensible and searching questions. After another round of coffee, those who did not attend the second part of Janice’s workshop could choose between ‘Working more efficiently: editing the index’ with Ann Hudson or ‘From plot to plate: indexing gardening and cookery books’ by Michèle Clarke-Moody. Michèle gave a rapid and thorough coverage of issues related to indexing gardening and cookery books, some of which I have had to use since the conference, how timely was that.

The conference closed and a thunderstorm of biblical proportions broke over Birmingham.

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