This week saw the launch of the long anticipated new Society of Indexers website. Featuring a new modern design, the site retains information useful for anyone interested in indexing, needing an indexer or looking for more information. The facility for finding indexers has also been updated, so I also took the opportunity to sweep some dusty corners here and rejig things a bit too.
A two-day conference at the Weston Library, organised by Dennis Duncan and the Centre for the Study of the Book, Oxford University. 22nd-23rd June 2017. An opportunity for academics and professionals to meet and and talk about indexes.
I must admit to having been slightly sceptical about booking for this event. It was timed to follow on from the Society of Indexers’ annual conference, could I bear to be sitting around for another two days? Who were the speakers, would they all be dry-as-dust old duffers? (With apologies to Oxford dons, I’ve been there and got the t-shirt, I know what they can be like.) Would it all be too esoteric for a jobbing indexer to understand?
I needn’t have worried on any count. The lecture theatre in the Weston Library is a great place. The seats are comfy, the tables are welcome, the sound is mostly good and the screen clear. I sat in a chair named after the Duke of Wellington.
The speakers were all young academics in the early stages of their careers and they were full of interesting material, delivered in a clear and enthusiastic voices. Young in this context means younger than me. The full programme is available here. You can see the programme covered topics including: indexing in 19th century China, Heidegger and Cassirer, indexes to the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, satiric indexes, Richard Hakluyt and the Indexes of Francis Daniel Pastorius. See Paula’s excellent blog for reviews and summaries of the talks here. There really isn’t any point in me covering the same ground.
The availability of wi-fi to check out some things as some of the speakers spoke – who were Hakluyt and Pastorius? Why might they be of interest to indexers? – was very useful. The speakers didn’t always have time to give the background that might be obvious to students of old books and manuscripts, but wasn’t for some of us. While some of it may have gone over our heads, I think when we read the articles when they are printed, we will understand more.
Two days flew by. The lunches were yummy. Attendees were also invited to the opening of the Jane Austen exhibition at the Weston Library, which was lovely too. A good time was had. Academics became aware of indexers, and indexers were made aware of the range of scholarship which is taking in aspects of indexing. Ruth made a Storify of the event using Twitter tweets, which is here. When can we do it again?
Why go to a small conference where you know most of the people and you’re all in the same line of business? What’s the point? What will you learn? Who will you meet?
Facets of indexing: the diamond anniversary conference of the Society of Indexers was held at St Anne’s College, Oxford on 21 June 2017.
Answering the last question first, you will meet people from across the world. The conference was attended by 71 people, 11 of whom gave addresses outside of the UK. The UK attendees represent only about one-sixth of the membership of the society, but were drawn from all over the country. Those from outside the UK included off-shore members of the society, representatives from our sister organisations in the USA, Australia, and the Netherlands, and representatives from indexing software companies. When you’re working away at home, on your own, I think it’s easy to forget that you’re actually part of a global activity. I spoke with an Australian indexer about my experiences working on projects where the volume editor was in mainland Europe, I am in the UK and the production editor is in Canada. She mentioned similar experiences.
What will you learn at the conference? The conference covered a range of topics and ran workshops and seminars concurrently. It can be difficult to choose what might be of most use or interest. On reflection, I learned a lot of things about the current state of indexing and better practice.
After the welcoming speech we split into subject areas to discuss current situation in our field. In the history and archaeology group we talked about how we tackle issues such as names, alternative international names for events (Battle of Austerlitz or Slavkova? or of the Three Emperors?), any experiences we had had with producing indexes for e-books or embedding.
The opening lecture from Philip Shaw, of Oxford Brookes International Centre for Publishing, on current developments in the publishing industry gave a rapid summary of recent trends, markets and technologies. It’s good to know where you sit in the scheme of things.
The conference also covered the AGM business, had awards for services to indexing and new indexers presented by the President of the Society, Sam Leith, and discussed society business. It’s good to keep in touch with the Executive Board, and I was elected to sit on it for three years. So perhaps I’ll learn more about that soon.
After lunch I attended Christopher Phipps’ workshop on lives in miniature: indexing biographies and other life writings. One session a year with Christopher is never enough to cover all you might want to ask of him. This year he introduced the idea of a cast of characters in a biography and how you might approach indexing five groups: the main character (the hero or heroine of the book), the lead supporting actors (the family and other significant people), the secondary players who appear repeatedly but irregularly, the walk-on parts who appear with some frequency but don’t say or do much, and the expert witnesses who could be people or significant works by the subject.
After a coffee break a number of us discussed working efficiently – tips, tricks and avoiding bad habits. OHIO – only handle it once is something to aspire to in making indexes. Some indexers spend a lot of time editing and working on their entries, others can create an index and spend very little time editing. I suspect that sometimes the amount of handling may have to do with the subject area and the kind of book involved. A text book may lend itself to more OHIO than a biography or philosophy book. Setting targets for time spent doing things is always good advice, as is turning off the distractions and ensuring you have templates for common types of email and other business needs. A collaborative approach involving other indexers or proof readers was also discussed as a way of making more efficient use of your time.
We then all met to listen to Pilar Wyman and Pierke Bosschieter discuss how indexers could influence the future of linked indexes in e-books. Pierke is an enthusiastic adopter of technology for reading and has reviewed many formats for e-books and devices. Pilar reviewed some approaches to linked indexes and went on to look at the EPub3 standard and how it could be used for better navigation. As with paper-based indexes of the past, an index in an e-book is part of the marketing strategy of the publisher. Why include it if it is of no use to anyone? Why not make a great one that helps the reader?
So the point of going to our conferences is to meet people, learn things and have time to reflect on indexing practice. Here’s Ruth’s Storify if you want to find out more.
Next year we’re heading north to Lancaster, concurrently with our sister organisation the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. An interesting time should be had by all.
The Society of Indexers is celebrating its diamond anniversary in 2017 and designated 30 March as the first National Indexing Day to raise awareness of this essential profession.
The Society has seen many changes in book production and indexing methods during that time. Gone are index cards, going out are paper prints and highlighter pens, in are specialised software packages, coming in are e-pub books with linked indexes. I wonder what the next 60 years will bring?
Media coverage included an article by Society of Indexers President Sam Leith which explains a lot about what indexers do – see here. And the following week there was a podcast by Sam and Dennis Duncan discussing the history of indexing. Listen here.
Here’s a Storify of the coverage we got – National Indexing Day.
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.
Next week the Society of Indexers is holding its annual conference in Birmingham. It has the title Back to the Future. But I don’t think it involves fast cars and time travel (more’s the pity, but I will be taking the train). This will be the third time I have attended the Society’s conference. Why should a trained, professional indexer want or need to do this? What might I get out of it to help me in future? I think there are three main reasons:
- There’s always something new to learn: on a one day event there’s only so much that can be done. I’m looking forward to hearing from Dennis Duncan on the history of indexing, and learning from Michele Clark-Moody more on cookery and gardening book indexing. Reflecting on how things were done in the past is always a way of informing present practice, and hearing from an expert is a good way to refine one’s own approach. I like working on cookery books, and maybe I can expand into gardening titles too.
- Networking: Meeting people who otherwise only appear to live on email message groups is always fun. I’ve met many before but new friends can be made in the spaces between sessions.
- Giving a bit back: As a relative newcomer to indexing I’m taking part in the session for new indexers and how to get started. A small panel of similar folk will hopefully be giving useful tips to even newer indexers and those still on the training course.
The one-day format packs a lot in. We’re also discussing ethics in indexing (censorship by authors, clashing with authors’ beliefs, quality of other indexer’s work, lack of skill or subject expertise, table of contents indexes). We have a Code of Professional Conduct which we all abide by, but perhaps sometimes situations force us to consider it very carefully. And we are also taking a look at digital publishing, backwards and forwards to the future.
A celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books to be held 9 – 16 November. http://acbookweek.com/
This is a chance of anyone interested in the future of academic book publishing in the UK and beyond to learn about and influence the potential development of arts and humanities books. As an indexer I sometimes have to wonder if there will be a future for traditional, human-made, indexes. However, opening up academic books to a wider audience and making them more usable for a wider range of readers has to be a key concern of authors and publishers. The index is a key feature that can enable this in both paper and digital formats, and is something that can be best done by a person who knows the subject area and can anticipate the needs of the audience. The Society of Indexers has some information on this subject, start here.
There are a number of events planned for the week – see http://acbookweek.com/events/. I hope that indexers will be able to make their voices heard in the contexts of the project and of the events of book week. I hope to see you there!