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50th Anniversary Conference 2007, London


50th Anniversary Conference Report
13–16 July 2007

Parkstead House

Whitelands College, Roehampton University, London SW15

Nearly 30 years ago the Society celebrated its twenty-first anniversary with the first international indexing conference at Roehampton. This was the last SI event attended by G. Norman Knight. To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Society he founded, we returned to this very special setting, for a three-day conference at Parkstead House, the present site of Whitelands College, Roehampton University.

Only five miles from the centre of London, at the junction of three of London's largest commons (Richmond, Putney and Wimbledon), Roehampton was once called the ‘the last village in London'. This title is still deserved, despite modern urbanization.

One of the highlights of this conference was a banquet on the Saturday evening in the splendid setting of Manresa Hall, a converted chapel. In addition, celebrating a golden past but more importantly looking forward to a challenging future, there were a range of talks, seminars and training sessions, together with optional visits to Kew Gardens and the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office).

The conference venue

Parkstead House

Parkstead House is a beautifully restored Grade I Georgian mansion in its own grounds and with stunning views of Richmond Park. Built for the second earl of Bessborough and designed by Sir William Chambers (also the architect of Somerset House), in the nineteenth century it became a Jesuit college. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was its most famous resident. Recently it has become the new home of Whitelands College, Roehampton University. A state-of-the-art teaching block has been added, plus brand-new residential accommodation with en-suite study bedrooms.


Law Indexing: An introduction (Tutor Moira Greenhalgh)

Saturday 14th July 2007

Moira’s workshop was aimed at any indexer thinking about adding law to their list of special subject areas. As a first-timer at the conference I was delighted to find the indexing profession so happy to share, rather than hoard, their knowledge and experience. The law indexing workshop was a fantastic example of this. Moira has many years of experience in indexing legal materials and shared her extensive knowledge most generously. She gave workshop attendees all the information and encouragement they needed to start out in indexing law materials. The workshop covered the types of terminology you would need to know, the necessary basic subject knowledge, what the market for law publications is like and sources of further information. There were plenty of pertinent examples and a few exercises to keep the brain in gear (a wise move in the post-heavy-lunch 2pm spot!). The final section was dedicated to giving tips on how to break into the area and start getting work.

All in all it was interesting and informative and certainly any indexer thinking of taking up law indexing would be well placed to know how to go about it after Moira’s workshop.

Creating order out of chaos: How to edit an index

Saturday 14th July 2007

This was the first example of an attractive new approach to delivering workshops, by including them at no extra cost within our annual Conference programme. For those of us living away from the major population centres, it's doubly attractive while an incidental third attraction for this maiden presentation was the venue: Parkfield House's elegant Ponsonby Room, which featured the most exquisite ceiling most of us will probably ever have spent a couple of hours sitting under. The downside was that all presenters (because Derek Copson and Pat Booth were to use the same room and technique) needed to apply some ingenuity to project OHP viewfoils so that everyone could read them.

I've always fancied attending this particular workshop, because embedded indexing (which is where I started) usually makes editing while assigning entries impossible so the length of the editing phase, estimated by various authorities at anything up to half the overall elapsed time, becomes very apparent, as does the fact that it's editing that transforms a meandering list of topic locations into (hopefully) a thing of beauty.

Taking as her starting point an overall editing checklist, Ann Hudson's well-chosen examples expanded on each stage and gave participants practice successively in slimming down a verbose index by cutting out unnecessary detail; re-distributing excessive levels of sub(-sub)entries; resolving synonyms, locating missed cross-references and replacing them wherever appropriate with double entries and in no case did our activities reduce the number of access points available to the index user.

It's always instructive to examine somebody else's unedited index, albeit in an artificial illustration; to progressively hunt down the many examples of different types of imperfections and departures from optimum compactness and then to reflect that your own indexes all need a similar treatment, except that the imperfections then won't be so neatly grouped on a single page of examples! Among Ann's more general suggestions were an exhortation not to try to do too much at once - it's easier to make several passes through the draft index, correcting one set of shortcomings at a time - and to record progress against a detailed checklist. Among many other hints I recall carrying out a page number sort to isolate any pagination typos and introducing your own personal mark-up cues as reminders.

On the face of it, there is less need to limit attendance at Conference workshops, but in practice it just takes longer to present to a score of participants. I confess I raised a question myself about how the availability of electronic versions of a text altered the balance of advantage between adding subentries in advance then deleting those not needed, and omitting them on the first pass and just going back to add those required. It was no small achievement to condense a half day's presentation into two hours, by omitting breaks and limiting discussion at the cost of only the final worked example, which would have given us practice at converting long strings of unmodified locators into the minimum number of useful subentries.

It would be a shame to further limit attendance at these valuable sessions so if another quarter hour could perhaps be found somewhere within the normal extent of next year's conference it might make this workshop session even more rewarding. Let's at least hope that including workshops at Conferences will be here to stay.

Bill Johncocks

Business workshops

Sunday 15 July 2007

Derek Copson began with “Good Business Practice". Derek offered a huge amount of practical advice on the business side of indexing; covering marketing, managing finances, health & safety and much more besides.

As a complete novice to indexing, and to the world of business, I found this workshop particularly informative, and the comprehensive handout will remain useful for future reference. My ears pricked up when Derek suggested that you treat yourself with income from your first job. My thoughts turned to a new kitchen, or a trip to Europe. What was Derek’s first suggestion? A bunch of flowers!

The second half, “Getting to Grips with the Client”, was presented by Pat Booth. This covered the more interpersonal side of running an indexing business. It was about establishing and maintaining a happy working relationship with editors, publishing companies, etc. Again, there were a great number of valuable tips in this workshop, and some ideas I probably would not have considered, such as sending a Christmas card to clients, to remind them you are still there.

For me, this combined workshop was the most useful part of the whole conference. When I had a question, there was input not just from Derek & Pat, but also from some of the more experienced attendees. I hope to see this workshop become a regular feature of conferences in the future.

Kim Birchall


What were your main reasons for attending the conference?

  • Meet other indexers and attend practical workshops.
  • Professional development, networking & learning more about indexing, the current prospects about indexing, the current prospects for indexing in relation to publishing & the Web.
  • Mental stimulus/ social enjoyment
  • Need inspiring to finish the course!!
  • Stimulation, concentration totally on indexing & related matters.
  • To get back in touch with indexing, would like to make sure indexing skill is up to scratch.
  • To meet other indexers for the first time – to talk to people with experience – to get contacts –and for inspiration. David Crystal as a guest speaker tipped the balance.

Which aspects of the conference did you find most useful and/or enjoyable?

  • Networking, and some very good lectures.
  • Workshops – good idea.
  • Publishers morning – entertaining and thought-provoking speakers.
  • Acquiring new information, updating. Meeting colleagues.
  • Visit to Kew Gardens, quality of venue, friendliness, number of visitors from abroad.
  • Opportunity to attend workshops as well as seminars.
  • Sharing experiences with other indexers and the wealth of information in the workshops & seminars & talks.
  • David Crystal’s & Bill Johncock’s talks.
  • Most talks + law indexing workshop.
  • General smooth running of operations & friendly atmosphere.
  • Talks/plenary sessions very thought provoking.
  • Potting shed workshop.
  • The benefit I have derived from this conference is immeasurable.

How could the Conference have been improved?

  • More peer reviews for beginners.
  • Only real problem was temperature/ air quality in lecture theatre.
  • More discussion time after some talks (e.g. Internet retrieval & Publishers/Editors).
  • In general we should have as many workshops & seminars as possible, to give more choice - perhaps no more could have been fitted in.
  • Water coolers/ bottles – rooms very hot.
  • Since the venue had to be in London, picking somewhere more easily reached by public transport.
  • I think the conference Committee did an excellent job
  • Need a plenary session where we can raise issues with the Board (say 30 mins). The AGM is no substitute.
  • Bookshop rather far from main lecture room – but not disastrously.
  • I would have liked to receive some sort of pack before the conference. As a newcomer, I had no clue what to expect.
  • More afternoon seminars.

Please give any additional comments below.

  • Great team of organisers. Whole thing went extremely well. Many many thanks.
  • Thank you to organisers for all the hard work in front of & especially behind the scenes.
  • Pity Bookshop not nearer coffee area, but handy to have it by dining area.
  • An excellent conference!
  • Had a very good weekend – thanks.
  • The organisation of the conference was excellent.
  • I really enjoyed this conference and am looking forward to Winchester.
  • The yellow badges and early reception on the first night were an excellent idea.
  • I’ve very much enjoyed this conference.
  • Committee did excellent job (as always).
  • Splendid Conference!
  • I like having the option/ availability of a third night’s stay in some form or other.
  • Particularly enjoyed the session with reps from the publishers’ side of things.
  • Excellent! Coming to this conference is undoubtedly one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done. Congratulations to the organisers.

Compiled by Howard Cooke


(one for those older indexers)

I  remember

  • Not really being able to afford it – but I am so glad I was there
  • Elizabeth Wallis – inevitably
  • My one and only sighting of Norman Knight
  • Edward de Bono talking about his concept of lateral thinking – and it crossing my mind “but that is what indexers do all the time”
  • Michael Marland talking about children’s books – have we really got to grips with that yet?
  • Hans Wellisch and his impressing on us the historical and academic study of indexes (Early multilingual and multiscript indexes in herbals)
  • Hazel Bell - and discovering she had an involvement in the then National Housewives Register. That’s a blast from the past (the NHR not Hazel)
  • Two Malaysian librarians who had news of my old college friend Joe Soosai – now what happened to the South East Asia connection?
  • Having lunch with a delegate from Switzerland – another lost link?
  • A trip with Liz Cook, looking at tents on a free afternoon – all our children were young then!
  • Jean Hagger who for a long time seemed to be the face of the Australian Society
  • And a fair number of others, well known to most of us, who I hope will be there in 2007

…but I DON’T remember any mention of computers. Can that really be right?

Anne McCarthy


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