Tag Archives: indexes

The Academic Book of the Future – project report

The project outlined in my previous blog, see below, also published a ‘project report‘.

This discusses indexes in the following part:

  • para 146 – Enhanced monographs – Scholarly monographs, even the simplest of them, and even in print form, have intricate organisational structures, notes, indexes, tables of content, sections, tables, illustrations. Given this, they are not
    particularly well served by current ebook reading devices; enhanced monographs might represent better the complexities of scholarly argument than the less functional ebook. …

The section on Enhanced monographs goes on to give examples of different projects which have created ‘enhanced monographs. The terms ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘innovative’ and ‘promising’ are used to describe them. Then comes ‘costly’, ‘time-consuming’, ‘not scalable’. So while some high-profile projects have been created, there’s little here about indexes per se, and no anticipation of what could be created using existing standards such as EPUB 3.

EPUB 3 was developed to support indexing for e-books and further information can be found here. The resources page was updated in 2017, and points to a range of material.

Another section of the report looks at new digital developments and discusses open access, the Books as Open Online Content developed as part of the project, and other experimental digital offerings. Then something on non-textual PhD theses, and finally the problems of digital preservation. Information retrieval for the users of these services is not gone into in any detail. This is disappointing because without adequate ways of finding material, full use of all that publishing effort and storage for posterity will not be achieved.

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.

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.

Current Archaeology Book of the Year

Voting recently took place for the 2017 Current Archaeology awards, including the Book of the Year. The winner was Images of the Ice Age (Paul Bahn) – this book has an index that the publisher owns up to, but I can’t see it or any reviews of it.

So, what of the indexes in the other books? Might considering the usefulness of the index have helped voters decide the best book?

Celts: art and identity (Julia Farley and Fraser Hunter) – there is an index, and it has been described as “workable” – which might be damning it with faint praise. I haven’t seen this book, so can’t comment further.

St Kilda: the last and outmost isle (Angela Gannon and George Geddes) – also listed for a British Archaeological Award – I can’t find whether this book has an index or not, or a reviewer who has commented on it.

Bog Bodies Uncovered (Miranda Aldhouse-Green) – a reviewer on GoodReads said the index was “nice”. But that’s all I can find.

The Home Front in Britain 1914-1918  (C Appleby, W Cocroft, J Schofield) – Council for British Archaeology Handbook. But I can’t find any reference to this book having an index.

Ritual in Early Bronze Age Grave Goods (Ann Woodward and John Hunter) This is book is ordered by item type and there is an index of grave groups and objects studied in detail, which is in itself very detailed.

Hidden Histories: a spotters guide to the British landscape (Mary-Ann Ochota) Seems to contain an index of places, as the book is arranged by theme there may have been no need for anything more. The index was prepared by a Society of Indexers member.

A Tale of the Axe: how the Neolithic revolution transformed Britain (David Miles) This book has an index, but that’s pretty much all I can say. An indexer has told me that the index was “good, helpful, and well constructed”. So that’s OK then.

So, what do we learn from this review? Not much I am sad to say. The books in question are not generally available to ‘look inside’ on Amazon, and the publishers don’t make much of the indexes as a selling point. Also, the reviews I found seem slightly shy of mentioning the index. Maybe this was because of space constraints, or possibly because the reviewers only know a good index by the fact it wasn’t bad. The index probably wouldn’t have made or broken the chances of any of these books succeeding in the Current Archaeology awards, however, the absence of an index, or a poor index can impact on the chances of a user making full use of the information contained in the book.

100 best non-fiction books – Awakenings

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 was a book of poetry, North, by Seamus Heaney which didn’t have an index in it’s Amazon incarnation. Poetry books can have indexes of titles and first lines, however this doesn’t appear to have had that treatment.

Number 12 is Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, the account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically ‘frozen’ by sleeping sickness.

This book has a traditional style index in run-out layout that is hard to find anything to say anything critical about. There are a few instances of entries having lots of locators. It might be a bit on the light side at 7 pages for 400 pages of text, but for a general interest text that might be enough. And I’d like to know what he says about Judy Dench, but unfortunately the Amazon version doesn’t allow a search, so perhaps I’ll have to find a copy and see.

100 best non-fiction books – Dreams from My Father

A quick place-holding blogette – Amazon/the publisher don’t let us look all the way inside this book so I’ll have to try and find a real hard copy in a library or book shop and check it out to see if there even is an index in it. Who knows, I might even end up reading it. The Guardian review suggests that the author is indeed a real human being, something the current candidates for his position could do well to remember.

 

Roads Were Not Built for Cars

To quote the author, Carlton Reid, “How cyclists were the first to push for good roads & became the pioneers of motoring”. It’s a rattling good read about things we ought to know more about and should appeal to cyclists, motorists and enthusiasts of late Victorian and Edwardian history. I’ve just completed the index and the book goes to press today. You can find out more here.

This is the end of the gestation period for Carlton, who has been working on the book for four years. He had to raise funds by crowdsourcing using Kickstarter, as well as more traditional research sources. Carlton is a fantastic example of someone who had an idea for a book and managed to get funding to cover the research and writing phases, and the all-important copy-editing and indexing. Here’s a link to his blog where you can read about how Kickstarter worked for him.  Let’s hope the book finds its way into a lot of Christmas stockings.