Tag Archives: indexes

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In the age of Big Data and ctrl+f searches it can seem quaint and outdated in that as an indexer I have to try and assume the role of reader and what they might be looking for and make judgements.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.

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:

Prudential Ride London 100 mile and indexing cycling books

Getting this weeks’ blog out a bit early as I’ll be cycling my legs off on Sunday 4th August doing the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 mile route. That’ll teach me for thinking I never win in lucky dips! I had a 1:4 chance of getting a place and lo and behold got one on the first try. So I have spent the last few months training away, when I’ve not being doing my indexing course, working and trying to squeeze in all the things a human being does. (I don’t sleep a lot!).

If you tune in to the BBC coverage during the day. starting at 11:30 on BBC1 and continuing at 4:30 also on BBC1, you might spot me in my Simon’s Cat cycling jersey hurtling along the roads or maybe walking up Leith Hill and Box Hill with a sympathetic voice-over saying something like “… and here are the older competitors who should have known better…”

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I like watching the professional cyclists competing in the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España. mostly because they are fit young chaps and it is all a bit bonkers to spend that much time and effort just cycling about. And there’s the books of course. If you watch the ITV coverage you’ll be familiar with Ned Boulting and his interviews and coverage of the different race stages. He’s written some books on the subject, and the first, How I Won the Yellow Jumper, is laugh out loud funny in some places as you cringe with Ned’s memories of the gaffs he made as he was learning the ropes on the Tour. It includes lots of names of riders, teams, places – on the routes, the hotels, the detours, and themes such as results, points, prizes, training, drugs, bikes and even the promotional men who give away stuff to the crowds at the finish points. The kind of things that fans of Ned, newly-minted cycling fans and more established ardent cycling fans are likely to go looking for in a book about the Tour de France. All good stuff for the indexer’s mill, but unfortunately Yellow Jersey Press chose not to get an index compiled for this or for the subsequent book On the Road Bike. So another couple of books that are a bit poorer for the omission of indexes. Ned might be a little shy of what he knows and the stories he tells, but it would be much better for all of us if these books were indexed.