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Annual Conference 2008, Winchester


The West Downs Centre


11–13 July 2008

The Round Table


The 51st Annual Conference of the Society of Indexers was held at the West Downs Centre, Winchester from 11-13 July 2008.  The event attracted 98 delegates, plus guests and visiting speakers; the total number included 27 trainees and 24 “Yellow Spots” (first-time Conference attendees).

According to legend, the Round Table of King Arthur was designed such that all who sat around it were considered equals, with no knight being more privileged than his peers. The 2008 SI Conference, in line with this ethos, offered a warm welcome to all and aimed to provide a programme that was relevant to everyone, from trainee through to experienced Fellow.

The Conference comprised sessions that were directly related to the practical skills of indexing and to employment as a freelance indexer. In addition, there were seminars aimed specifically at trainees and new indexers. A choice of 4 SI workshops was also available during the afternoon of Saturday 12 July.

Conference Reports

Where available, reports on the presentations, workshops and parallel seminar sessions are given below, in programme order.

Friday 11 July 2008

Curiosities of Indexing (Professor John Sutherland)

The title of John Sutherland’s thought-provoking presentation “Curiosities of Indexing” had come from one of his forthcoming books Curiosities of Literature, a modern recycling of Isaac D’Israeli’s book of the same name which is to be published this autumn by Random House, a publisher who pays scrupulous attention to indexing.

Professor Sutherland gave a few examples of amusing indexing entries, such as William F. Buckley’s addressing Norman Mailer in one of his book indexes with a personal message under his name and the humorous index in Francis Wheen’s How Mumbo-jumbo conquered the world which has such delightful sub-entries for Tony Blair as ‘defends teaching of creationism’ and ‘displays coat hangers’.

Professor Sutherland wondered when indexing began and felt it was probably at the time of the rise of universities, some two centuries before the invention of printing. He went on to comment on three “curiosities” that he had observed about indexes and indexing. Firstly, he found “curiously irritating” the logic of the standard contract between the publisher and author, which throws the responsibility of preparing the index on to the author. He felt that, because indexers work by themselves, the indexing profession lacks the critical mass needed to press for change to this situation.

Indexers are rarely mentioned in author’s acknowledgements – a situation which Professor Sutherland finds “offensive and curious”. A third curiosity is the fact that the index is always compressed by space and time. The index is usually in small print, and production schedules always run at the convenience of the publisher rather than the indexer.

Professor Sutherland went on to talk about the recent autobiography of Jeremy Lewis (Grub Street Irregular) which details his encounters with literary figures over the past 40 years. The book has no index which seems curious coming from Harper Collins, a publisher who normally has a good record on indexes.

Professor Sutherland then explored indexes to some recently published books dealing with Shakespeare. Shakespeare Revealed by Rene Weis has a long, detailed index covering concepts, chronologies and characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer has a name and place index which, although these indexes can be useful, he felt was not helpful in this particular case. He contrasted these two books with Bill Bryson’s The World is a Stage; although this is an excellent easy-to-read book by a fine writer it is spoilt by having no index. Readers need the stepping stones of an index to get to the facts contained in books.

He continued with a discussion of recent changes in the landscape of information retrieval, speaking firstly about the Gutenberg Project, which has 120,000 titles on the web available for download free of charge. By contrast, indexing based on a thesaurus of key words is the primary function of the Google Library Project. Despite these interesting developments the technology has inadequacies and shortcomings. The delicacy and ‘finesse’ of a good index is missing from these developments and as a result the books are diminished.

Rohan Bolton


Saturday 12 July 2008


International Reports

This year’s International Meeting was on the theme of training.  Jill Halliday started the session by saying that as indexers we need to think trans–nationally, make sure we have a voice in the world of publishing and that we all keep standards high in training everywhere.

Fred Leise, President of the American Society for Indexing talked about the course the ASI is using which is based on the SI course.  They are finding the course which they began using in October 2006 has had 225 students and has proved a good source of revenue for the ASI.  At the end of training a certificate of completion is awarded to the trainee. Leise also spoke about the distance education course from the University of California, Berkeley which is done through the university’s website.  Another training course available is surprisingly from the US Department of Agriculture who initially developed training years ago for farmers’ wives to develop another method of income.

Ruth Pincoe from the Indexing Society of Canada told us about the different ways indexers in Canada found training in indexing over the years including those mentioned above.  She talked about what trainees want from their courses which definitely included value for the cost of the course.  We were also reminded that different people learn in different ways and that this must be remembered when designing a course.  Peer reviews and more training are always valued by everyone.

Liqun Dai had the audience sitting up straighter in their seats as she told the history of her love of books starting with her father and the Cultural Revolution in China.  It was her father’s job as a librarian in a local primary school which sent Liqun on her way to her love of books and being a librarian herself.  The story of Liqun hanging on the window ledge at the library waiting to see if the librarian would give her her first library card became a very vivid picture in the minds of the audience––one which will not be forgotten.

Pam Scholefield


Preparing for Fellowship (Leader: Ann Hudson)

This well-attended session was led by Ann Hudson who opened by setting out the aims of the seminar: to set out the Society's view on Fellowship, the requirements and process, and to avoid getting into heated and sticky debate.

The first question Ann addressed was why apply for Fellowship?  The Society sees it as the next step from AI; it can help bring in work and it can be personally satisfying and a useful exercise in reviewing your work.

The session included some reassurance - the index you submit does not ahve to be perfect - assessors are looking for potential for future development.  Ann told us about her own experience of applying, including that she had failed first time.

The seminar was a useful guide to the process of applying for fellowship, delivered in Ann's customary quiet, open manner.  We asked questions throughout and had a short discussion at then end.  Much of the information is on the webite, but it is always good to have the opportunity to ask questions - and to hear other peoples' questions that hadn't occurred to you.

Will I be applying for Fellowship?  I don't know - but at least I have a pretty good idea of what I'd be letting myself in for.

Hilary Faulkner


History Peer Review  (Leader: Barbara Hird)

The chosen chapter from a popular history of frigates and their captains seemed fairly innocuous at first glance - but provided all sorts of knotty problems.  With a certain Horatio Hornblower appearing as if real, British and American names for wars, and a fair sprinkling of nobility, an hour seemed very little time for this superb session. 
Barbara Hird brought along a mini library of useful reference books for us to browse, and happily agreed to email out full details.  History usually means lots of checking - dates and names are usually accessible, but it is advisable to ask the author for help with specialist information. 
The various naval ratings (our pseudonyms) had produced very different indexes, which meant plenty of discussion : forms of names; selection of terms; commas round headings.  Useful advice included :
a) rewording can aid clarity   e.g. smuggling, prevention   is more precise than anti smuggling
b) remember that country boundaries change, and using Netherlands or Holland for Dutch wars may not be totally accurate for the period 
Barbara's own index was a model of the clarity, elegance and thoroughness of a Wheatley medallist.  But considerable thought had gone into all the indexes - and I suspect we could have spent an entire day learning from each other!

Moyra Forrest


New Indexers Panel (Leaders: Sally Roots, Adele Furbank, Alan Rutter)

An informal question and answer session for trainees and the newly qualified, hosted by people who have themselves only recently started working as freelance indexers.  Remember, there are no stupid questions…and we’ve all been there.


“Grumpy Old Indexers” (Leader: Moira Greenhalgh) 

A group of amenable, young (at heart) indexers grumped about being booked for urgent jobs which don't turn up, and the perils of indexing topics where you have no background knowledge. Editorial decisions could result in finished indexes being seen as inadequate, through no fault of the indexer. 
The group also considered how publishers can be educated, and the role of publishing courses with indexing components.

Caroline Wilding


Is Working a Pain in the Neck? (Shelagh Aitken) 

Shelagh’s resources sheet is available here

Shelagh Aitken’s talk was in two parts. First she gave a number of suggestions for minimizing the stresses and strains of working long hours at a computer, with tips on office layout and how to adapt the furniture we already have, posture and the 20/20/20 rule to help combat eye strain (take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look alternately at two object objects 20 feet away). As well as using slides to illustrate this part of her talk, her assistant Angus Antley was called upon to slump rather alarmingly in his chair. Conference delegates were also invited to participate as visual aids and a dumbbell was passed round to illustrate just how heavy the human head is. The second half of the talk was an introduction to the Alexander Technique, which she had used herself when recovering after rotator cuff surgery. Both Shelagh and Angus were available after lunch for a hands-on demonstration for those who were interested. Even a 15-minute session – during which it became clear that a teacher, someone able to assess one’s posture objectively, was needed – left participants feeling much better.

Rosi Deer


Serial indexing: from journals to databases  (Tutor: Caroline Barlow)
An interactive workshop for indexers who wish to add serial indexing to their portfolio of work. The main aim is to discuss the differences between back-of-the-book indexing and the continuous nature of indexing journals and other serial publications, including material for databases. Other important aspects of this work to consider are the needs of the users, editorial requirements, forms of locators, consistency and cumulation. There will be an opportunity for participants to do a short practical exercise in advance of the workshop, which will highlight the likely problems faced in this type of indexing.

Indexes from the kitchen: indexing cookery books (Tutor: Michèle Clarke)

Michèle Clarke’s workshop on indexing cookery books was exactly what I was hoping for. Under Michèle’s expert guidance and a with little help from an OHP, we discussed the various methods of approaching the indexing of a cookery book according to the way in which the writer had structured it and its main themes. We considered how it might be useful to index cooking methods, types of occasion for which a dish might be appropriate, regional origins of recipes or perhaps even the suitability of dishes for special diets in addition to the basic factors of ingredients and recipe titles.

Michèle explained how it was sometimes possible to fairly whiz through a cookery book picking out main ingredients and highlighted tips as the basis for index entries, but stressed that the indexer also had to be constantly alert for ‘hidden’ topics, such as recipe variations and sub-recipes for sauces and accompaniments. Depending on the type of the book, there could also be fairly dense introductory material on various topics that would need careful analysis.

Those of us attending the workshop were sent a short selection of recipes and a sample cookery book introduction before the conference on which to try out our existing ideas and we were able to compare results with Michèle’s own index of the material on the day. Often in cookery books there are strict space constraints and we discussed which sorts of headings might be dispensed and still leave a useful index and which further headings might be added if space was abundant.

I’ve been a keen reader - not to mention a proofreader - of cookery books for as long as I can remember but have never yet indexed one. I now feel ready to have a go.

Wendy Toole


Good business practice: an introduction for trainees and newly qualified indexers (Tutor: Derek Copson)

The target audience for this workshop was Trainees and New Indexers, or rather those people who haven't yet set up their own business. We were first asked to consider the implications of becoming self-employed. Along with the financial and social aspects of working alone, we also discussed possible changes to lifestyle and family life, both in pairs and as a group, and considered how best to help the business become a success. Key factors identified here were networking, self-promotion, and market research. A discussion on the benefits of creating a web site would also have been helpful.

We discussed some aspects of self-promotion in greater depth - CVs (what is the most important information to include on a CV?) and how to find and contact clients. We identified sources of publishing information - periodicals, The Writers' Handbook, your own bookshelf etc., and how to develop the client-indexer relationship. Finally we had a group discussion on the more practical aspects of self-employment: tax, record keeping, and some legal considerations. Possibly more information on alternative working methods would have been helpful, for example, electronic invoicing and book-keeping, but these subjects were briefly discussed in the group.

This workshop would be helpful for anyone thinking of becoming self-employed as it is generally the practical issues that confuse and concern individuals. Derek provided helpful information and included several topics for the participants to discuss in pairs and in the group, as well as sources of further information.

Kathryn O’Donaghue


Creating order out of chaos: how to edit an index (Tutor: Ann Hudson)


            ‘It is easy enough to make an index, as it is to make a broom of odds

            and ends, as rough as oat straw; but to make an index tied up tight,

            and that will sweep well into the corners, isn’t so easy.’ (John Ruskin)


The process of working through a text and making entries tends to produce Ruskin’s ‘broom of odds and ends’.  It is at the all-important editing stage that the index must be refined into something clear, concise, well arranged and user-friendly. With the aid of practical exercises, we will explore topics such as how to prune out dead wood, dealing with strings, checking cross-references and double entries, and ensuring accuracy and consistency.  We will also consider which aspects of editing can be done as you go along and which are best left until the end.  This workshop is suitable for indexers at all levels, including trainees.


For the Guidance of Wise Indexers: advanced interpretation of indexing principles (Leader: Auriol Griffith-Jones)

Heresies on heresies

Thanks to Auriol Griffiths-Jones, ‘For the Guidance of Wise Indexers’ proved to be a lively discussion about the rules that all of us observe instinctively, a discussion not necessarily as reverent as it might have been.

Everyone agreed on the difference between the principles – the basis of indexing behaviour – and the rules – there for guidance rather than prescription. They agreed also that the expectations of users about the way that indexes provide access to information now are different from even a few years since, with the advent of the web. Ideal indexing conditions are simply ‘cloud cuckoo land’: books aren’t written with the index in mind; indexes are rarely mentioned in reviews; and indexes have to be aimed at users – which often means bending, even breaking, the rules.

Iconoclasm in full swing, the group looked at a few perennial posers. Several people admitted to heretical leanings: fortunately, autos-da-fé didn’t follow or, at least, the smoke alarms weren’t activated on Sunday morning as had happened on Saturday, caused presumably by the burning of the breakfast bacon – indexers déshabillé are not pretty.

On occasions, the use of strings of locators is justified – although not in indexes to children’s books: in biographies, subheadings such as ‘passing mention’ or ‘also mentioned’ might warrant the use of strings; ‘about’ as a subheading might be used, followed by strings of less important mentions of a subject. The point was made that, where strings are used, their placement after the headword might suggest that they were more important than the following subheadings.

Some unorthodox approaches to cross-references of different persuasions surfaced. The use of cross-references from the particular to the general were acceptable. Embarrassing ones were mentioned: for example, ‘marriage’ see ‘women’. See under had to be used with care: readers might be confused if the reference was to a subheading; see under a general concept such as ‘individual countries’ rather than specific terms demanded that readers had a good knowledge of the field if they were to track down material. Terms such as ‘go to’ and ‘related entries’ were now used more readily.

Several recidivists owned up to the use of passim: its use depended on the readership. Even explanatory footnotes for particular terms were mooted. The appearance of several references on a page could be a problem if users were not to miss them, and ways of indicating the number of occurrences were suggested. The repetition of locators against subheadings, where the locators had appeared already in spans after a headword was defended. The ultimate heresy was probably the intermingling of word-by-word with letter-by-letter filing. ‘Chronological’ arrangement of entries, as in biographies, was also mentioned.

All in all, a lively session appeared to agree that, while essential for good practice, rules could be broken with impunity, provided the breakage could be justified.

Peter Andrews


Peer Review for Trainees (Leader: Ann Hudson)

The peer review for trainees at the 2008 conference was led by Ann Hudson in her usual efficient and friendly style. The review stated a few weeks before the conference when we received a text for indexing from Ann by email. The text was a 13 HSE booklet: Working with VDUs. We were asked to create an index of 75 lines with subheadings set out. We each provided six copies of our index to share at the workshop.

On the day we were split into groups of up to six people and given some discussion topics to start the flow of ideas, each group had a qualified indexer to help lead the discussion and to ask questions about our indexes. In my own group there was a range of experience from a few months to several years and we had to defend some of our decisions to each other and to explain the reasoning behind the entries And subentries we had created. As usual there was a wide range of entries, with very few universal entries, and even those were not covered with the same locators in each index.

The discussion created an awareness of the intended readership, our own preconceptions of the readership and a discussion of the probable uses of the booklet. As an aside, a discussion of the indexing process also occurred within my own group. At the end of the small group discussion we were each given a sample index created by Ann Hudson to compare with our and each other’s work.

The entire group reconvened near the end of the session to pool ideas and ask questions, a lively short debate followed on the merits of certain entries over others.

The workshop was pleasant, supportive and well organized with Ann and the experienced indexers providing knowledge and questions that gave us food for thought in our future endeavours.  Thank you Ann for a very interesting and useful experience.

Janet Reed


Sunday 13 July 2008


Negotiation for Indexers: Getting what you deserve (John Mattock)

What's being bought and sold?  When the seller (us) sees it as a high-value professional service and the buyer (them) thinks it's a mere commodity, then it's time for some clear communication and creative bargaining.  

Who's responsible for that process?  In a free market, where the buyer has the power to shop around, it had better be the seller (us) who takes the initiative, explores the options and drives the agenda...because the alternative is to lower the price and suffer.

John Mattock's session will demystify the principles of 'win:win' negotiation, and encourage his audience of indexers to 'raise their game' next time a job comes up...less pain, more gain.


Medical Indexing for Beginners (Leader: Jill Halliday)

Not wanting the other choices on offer for Sunday morning, I put myself down for Jill’s session on Medical Indexing, albeit for beginners. I wasn’t disappointed despite having a good few years’ experience under my own belt.

Jill talked about the types of medical publications in the market that we might be asked to index, ranging from academic textbooks to inhouse pharmaceutical manuals. Journals are becoming fewer and fewer as many are now up on the web and the publishers say they don’t need an index. Well they would, wouldn’t they!

Resource material to help us on our way includes biographical source books; the CBE Scientific Style and Format (published by CUP); any of the really good dictionaries such as Stedmans or Dorlands; Internet resources, and English and American English dictionaries.

We were given an exercise to complete, a chapter on community-acquired pneumonia, which tested our skills, confirmed that, unlike some opinions on this matter, medical indexing is not just a question on indexing the headings, and also made some of us realise that this is a subject not to be attempted without some background training. Finally we were given a spoof index and we had to find any ‘wrong’ entries.

This session was very useful and I thank Jill for the thoughtfulness in putting in so much information in a short time slot.

Michèle Clarke


Perennial Posers (Leader: Pat Booth)

Pat Booth led us through a selection of the indexing problems which just keep coming back. First up for discussion were subheadings. We rather surprised ourselves by quickly agreeing that when a heading contains a long page range, it is a good idea to break it out into subheadings as well as to include the full range under the heading.

The second topic concerned page ranges – the importance (or otherwise) of accuracy, how to deal with multiple references on a single page and how to indicate a range broken by an illustration. There were several suggestions on the best way of dealing with all of these, but again general agreement that any non-standard usage must be explained in an introductory note (which often does not find its way into the published book).

We then turned to that perennial blister, passim. Users may not understand it, but most people felt that there was a need for some way to indicate scattered references.

Some ethical questions were also discussed – to what extent should an indexer interpret the text, whether or not it was acceptable to turn a book down after initially accepting it if one did not agree with the author’s views and how to react when offered an index to a second edition when another indexer had indexed the first edition.

I found this a very useful session which made me re-examine several of my indexing habits.

Cath Topliff


Moving your business on (Leader: Derek Copson)

An interactive discussion session for established indexers.  Areas to be covered will include VAT registration, formal and informal partnerships (formed both vertically and horizontally), retaining a good client base, and life/work balances.


The Publishing Process (Nora Naughton)

Indexing is usually a solitary occupation, conducted near the end of the production process and therefore subjected to pressure to complete this demanding and intricate task after everyone else’s overruns.

Particularly helpful for those of us who have never worked in-house, therefore, Nora’s presentation was a masterly summary of what precedes us in the publishing process, whether it is all kept in-house or partially delegated to a project management company such as hers.  She examined the contribution of the Commissioning Editor and the Development Editor in initiating the interrelated activities that will produce the final publication.

Her own company’s specialisation in scientific and medical texts provides good examples of the huge complexities involved in the resultant project management: at any one time Nora could be acting as ringmaster for 300 contributors to various books going through the production process.  She seeks to ensure that participation in the process is a good experience for all.

It was heartening, therefore, to hear that she places high value on the expertise of freelances and that, amidst all this activity, she welcomes feedback.  Her keyword is ‘communication’, whether it is with a freelance indexer round the corner or an author in California.  If there is a problem she urges freelances to make contact immediately, to prepare options and to offer the best possible solution.

She acknowledges that publishers may attempt to divide and rule between participants in the publishing process and that they can possibly trade on an indexer’s inability to do a bad job: she herself aims for a no-blame culture if things go wrong.  To this she adds (in large friendly letters), ‘Don’t panic!’  We therefore felt better informed and considerably reassured by her advice.

Jane Read

Introduction to Controlled Vocabularies (Fred Leise)

Designed for indexers considering expanding their offerings into controlled vocabulary or taxonomy design, this session introduced basic concepts and terminology in that field. The nature of controlled vocabularies was explored, how they are used and created, and how they are managed in a corporate setting. A discussion of facets and their use in providing access to information in conjunction with controlled vocabularies was also included.

A copy of Fred’s presentation (Powerpoint format) is available here




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