Tag Archives: indexers

The Academic Book of the Future – reports published

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.

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Passing mentions – when you don’t have to index everything

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.

Twittering about indexing, indexes, indexers etc

Since the start of the year while I’m waiting for some pdfs to arrive for indexing, I’ve been dabbling in Twitter to see what kind of things get said about indexing and thinking about how to engage with non-indexers and the comments they make. However, it’s not always so easy to find tweets about indexing of books, or other paper-based resources, as the term ‘indexing’ has been hijacked by computer search engine indexers and the Twitter search facility doesn’t always help to discriminate between the two sorts. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the word for ourselves, but it might be too late.

I have found examples of the following behaviours: