In today’s fast-changing information environment, as more and more materials are published online, the role of the indexer is rapidly evolving and expanding to include website indexing and metadata management. The 2009 SI Conference aimed to provide a programme that would enable everyone to prepare for the future, from trainee through to experienced Fellow.
Friday 11th September
Taxation Matters (Jenny Prescott, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, HMRC)
This session told you everything you need to know about tax in order to set up in business for yourself. The audience was a mixture of new indexers wanting to learn about starting from scratch, and more experienced indexers wanting to learn about how to fill in the online tax forms. The talk started with how to register as self-employed and for paying National Insurance. It then went on to cover tax allowances, record keeping and tax returns. All of which inspired some lively questions, especially regarding what you can and cannot claim as tax allowances! At the end of the talk Jenny briefly touched on VAT registration and employing someone else to work for you. We left the session armed with useful paperwork; and I have since registered as self-employed and to pay National Insurance, and am no longer dreading filling in my first tax return ! A very useful session all round.
Random Thoughts of an all-too-random Indexer (John Sutherland, SI President)
In his introductory talk John Sutherland commented on the current mania for lists, exemplified by such works as 1001 Novels You Must Read Before You Die, which were symptomatic of today’s flood of unsorted information. We need signposts, and John predicted that indexing will be increasingly important as a result. He cited his review in the Literary Review (reprinted in The Indexer) of the Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume VI, 1830-1914, a book which represented a huge amount of scholarship at an ‘obscene price’ (£100) but had a manifestly inadequate index which disabled the utility of the volume.
John then turned to the theme of the invisibility of the indexer. Indexers were to authors like servants to Royalty – not noticed unless they were absent. Douglas Matthews, who indexed Peter Conradi’s biography of Iris Murdoch, received only a brief acknowledgement. Douglas indexes all Selina Hastings’ biographies, but at the launch of her biography of Somerset Maugham she made no mention of his contribution. In John Carey’s much-publicized recent biography of William Golding, there is no acknowledgement to its indexer, Alison Worthington (her index includes an ‘elephantine’ narrative entry for Golding, which takes up one-third to one-half of the space occupied by the index). Another indexer whose work went unacknowledged was Oliver Stallybrass, indexer of the letters of George Orwell and of the Abinger Edition of the works of E M Forster, which he also edited.
Finally, John commented on the necessary distance and objectivity that indexers have to impose on the material they deal with, and declared that the more he comes to SI conferences, the more he learns and the more fascinated he becomes with indexing, which he feels is needed now more than ever.
Saturday 12th September
Is Metadata dead? Developing search strategies for Education Information Providers (Mike Clarke, Higher Education Academy)
Mike Clarke has spent the summer working on a research project to create a framework to develop search strategies for use by website managers in the education sector. He explained part of his research in the limited time available after explaining what metadata is and its importance in search strategies since the development of the internet.
The use of metadata to tag resources enables more efficient searching and retrieval of data by web search engines, so increasing the relevance of the items retrieved. It has long been recognised that much of the data retrieved from the internet is irrelevant and the project aims to improve the retrieval statistics in the educational sector.
Mike explained the workings of the Higher Education Academy website and how data is created, catalogued and stored on the site for easy retrieval by users. The Academy aims to improve the student learning experience by supporting the professional development of academic teaching staff and the website goes a long way to fulfilling that aim with the work currently being undertaken in information retrieval.
Mike was a witty and interesting speaker who kept my attention and renewed my interest in information retrieval techniques.
The short answer is no. The longer answer took us through online search strategies, web crawling, Google services and user education. Metadata, although often misunderstood, can really be considered as cataloguing resources in extreme for machine-readable applications. Similar problems apply. Do users really know what they are looking for? Can an intermediary ascertain the users’ needs? Will precision be lost during keyword searching? Will sufficient time and money be spent on producing metadata? Is there consistency and control in the choice of metadata? Is archiving reliable or is there a risk of losing out-of-date material? Is there sufficient interoperability?
Although metadata are useful for organizing your music collection, the accessibility of the whole of the internet relies on adequate and accurate metadata. Robust strategies need to be developed by website managers to include design, specification, interoperability, architecture, accessibility, implementation, technical infrastructure, the cataloguing system, pilot testing, vocabulary maintenance and system review. There is no turning back!
Index Usability: a view from theoretical linguistics (Dr. Hidekazu Tanaka, Dept. of Language and Linguistic Science, University of York)
Dr Tanaka gave a thought-provoking and entertaining talk to us all on the Saturday morning of the conference in York. He took us on a brain-bending journey through some of the questions posed by theoretical linguistics... what is linguistics? what is language? where is language?
To say that language is used for communication merely expresses the function of language rather than defining it, much like saying water is used for drinking, rather than defining it as H2O. Likewise, linguistics studies the structure of language, i.e., how the elements are combined.
Dr Tanaka then delved deeper by suggesting that language knowledge held by native speakers is subconscious. He made several references to Noam Chomsky’s theories, including Poverty of Stimulus (we know more than we can know based on our experience: we know, without being taught, that certain sentences are meaningless despite being ‘grammatically correct’, e.g., “how didn’t you say that?”). Dr Tanaka also touched on Universal Grammar and Deep Structure, and the latter’s potential implications for indexers in considering whether different word forms really can be interchangeable, e.g., gerunds and nominalizations. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, as did all those I spoke to afterwards. Thank you, Dr Tanaka, for sharing with us your knowledge and enthusiasm for words and language.
How I Index (Elisabeth Pickard)
Marketing for Indexers: Novel but not Novelty (Alan Rutter)
Alan led a very good and practical session on how to market one’s self as an indexer. He started out by telling us about his own experiences and how he secured his first jobs. He discussed what should be in a marketing letter. The phrase he used most often was ‘be novel without novelty’. This referred to standing out from the crowd while remaining professional.
Contacts, of course, were a big part of the discussion. Alan mentioned how to use publications such as Writers’ and artists’ yearbook and Bookseller to find publishers within our specialist areas and how to contact the editors there. He also talked about the importance of maintaining contacts and ways of doing this.
Alan also discussed the importance of keeping one’s CV and other marketing materials up-to-date. He made it cleat that marketing isn’t something we do only when we start our indexing careers. It is something that is on-going throughout our careers.
There was good participation in this session. New indexers and trainees asked a lot of practical questions. More experienced indexers shared some of their own ideas and experiences. Alan led the discussion skilfully through the whole process of marketing.
Indexing Biographies and Life Writing (Christopher Phipps)
A regular indexer of life writings, Christopher began the session by explaining that he was happy to be indistinguishable from the author, believing that the tone of the index should complement the text and provide a flavour of the contents, such that the reader is unable to differentiate between the hands of author and indexer. An example of his work later demonstrated this most eloquently - a quick glance through the index to the joint biography of Messrs Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed (noting the entries taken directly from the cocktail cabinet) gives a clear picture of the story yet to be read.
Christopher then presented an outline of the different types of people found within biographies, from the lead role to the expert witnesses (or perhaps noises off?) via the supporting cast, secondary players and walk-on parts. For each type of character, the level of detail and arrangement of sub-entries was examined, with the dual heresies of inconsistent sort orders and use of strings inevitably raised and discussed. The potential for the index to add value was considered in the context of names - we were encouraged to give as much detail as possible and above all, to check everything!
Thought-provoking and of great practical value, the popularity of this session was undoubtedly reinforced by John Sutherland’s recommendation of the previous day and those of us fortunate enough to attend were certainly not disappointed - in fact, another hour or so in Christopher’s company would have been most welcome.
Peer Review for Trainees (Jan Worrall)
A peer review especially for trainees was held at the York conference. Indexing practise with feedback is always welcome, so this was an excellent opportunity.
Prior to the conference, Jan Worrall had emailed all the participants an article by the National Trust on coastal erosion and asked us to index it. We were given guidelines on length and layout and asked to make copies of our completed index. On arrival to the session we were separated into more manageable groups of 4 or 5, each with an indexer of some experience. Our ‘responsible adult’ was Margaret Vaudrey.
The group sat in a circle of tables with enough space to spread out everybody’s indexes, including one by Margaret and also one by Jan. After introducing ourselves and establishing our wide range of backgrounds and differing progress through the course (matching faces to names from SI Trainee was an added bonus), we began to look at the indexes.
The conversation flowed, with Margaret guiding us through the relevant points. We compared use of subheadings and double entries, and our approach to passing mentions. There was some debate on the difficulty of indexing photos with captions and the perils of over-indexing such a small text. The choice of headings had been particularly hard for everybody to pin down. This provided us with the opportunity for a group moan, something which I suspect is invaluable to the freelancer working alone.
We digressed occasionally, plying Margaret with questions about life as a professional indexer. We were only occasionally distracted by geese wandering past the window. As anyone who went to the conference will know, this was a constant theme for a weekend spent at the York University Campus with its pond full of waterfowl.
The time flew by. It was a rewarding experience to see somebody else’s take on the same text; to dissect an index in a friendly atmosphere. Good for renewing enthusiasm and pushing the participants towards our collective goal of accreditation.
Alexander Technique (Pat Brown)
The workshop was led by Pat Brown, a qualified and experienced teacher of the Alexander technique. As we were almost all new to this she asked us what we thought it was all about. The sort of words people used were: alignment; awareness; posture and relaxation.
The originator of the technique, F M Alexander, was an actor who had vocal problems because of his habit of pulling his head back and down. The technique helps us to become aware of how we use our bodies, so that we can change our habits to do things without so much tension.
Inhibition means consciously choosing to stop (inhibit) a movement, for instance, the habit of crossing one leg over the other.
Directions means giving ourselves mental instructions before and during an action to change the way we use our bodies during an action. Another meaning is directing the body in such a way as to release and lengthen muscles.
Some 'exercises' we did during the session:
Sitting. If we sit without balancing our head correctly the weight of the head (10lbs or 5kg) will make the spine curve. Instead release the lower back and rest on the sitting bones - be aware that the chair is supporting your weight.
Getting in and out of a chair. Pat used the direction 'move your whole head forward and up and allow your body to follow'. Girls are told from an early age to keep the knees together when they get out of a chair (i.e. not letting the knees splay outwards like men do), but this causes more muscle tension and we ladies should try and get rid of this 'habit'.
Standing (no shoes). Weight should be distributed between three points, on the heel and at either end of the line running from the ball of the foot to the joint of the little toe, but mainly behind the big toe.
Walking – we did this in slow motion so that we could concentrate on each step. Our partners had their hand on our back to steady us. Thinking about the standing leg, swing your leg, place your foot and shift your weight. The head leads the spine which then leads the body.
Lying down. We practised lying down with a book about the width of 3 fingers under the head and our knees bent up, feet flat on the floor (the ‘semi-supine’ position). This helps to lengthen the spine whilst holding the head in a ‘neutral’ position. Pat came and checked that we were all lying in the right position. She recommended ten minutes lying in this position each day as a basic relaxation exercise; however, it is not suitable for everyone. For example, pregnant women should avoid lying in this position and some arthritis sufferers may find it uncomfortable. The message here was clear; if it makes you uncomfortable, stop doing it. There are alternative exercises if the normal ones don’t work for you.
One of the reasons we have aches and pains, especially backache, is because we tense our muscles as we work. Our natural tendency when working at the computer is to draw closer and closer to the screen as we become engrossed in what we are doing. Using a computer keyboard and a dummy screen, we were shown the correct seated posture for working.
Pat could have continued but we ran out of time. I was certainly more relaxed and more in tune with my body at the end of the session.
Visit to the 'Search Engine' archive at the National Railway Museum (led by Rosemary Cole)
We were a large group so divided into two for the visit. While one group was on the tour of the archives the rest of us looked around the other displays in the museum, which included the possibility of watching a demonstration of the block signalling system, fascinating even for those not particularly interested in railways.
Tim Procter, the archivist, explained that since the museum is a publicly funded institution they have endeavoured to make as much as possible open access and it is possible to browse railway books and journals that are on the shelves in the reading area. Some archives do need to be ordered in advance; the catalogue to the collection is hosted online by York University so one can do searches to find details of the stock and there are always staff on duty to help with enquiries.
The archive includes histories of railway companies, rolls of honour of railway workers who died in wartime service, biographies of engineers, diaries, some audio-recordings of railway workers, accident reports as well as engineering drawings, architectural drawings, photographs and the second largest collection of paintings in North Yorkshire (which are catalogued in the N. Yorkshire volume of Oil Paintings in Public Ownership published by The Public Catalogue Foundation).
Tim took us behind the scenes to see examples of these different resources and also explained the environmental conditions in which they were kept. I think everyone found something to interest them on this comprehensive tour.
New Indexers' Panel (Janet Reed and Margaret Vaudrey)
Negotiation (Jane Read)
A lively session was run by Jane Read on Negotiating with a small role play acted out by four volunteers, which drew some rueful laughter on the lines of ‘been there, negotiated like that!’
Negotiation takes two to tango – they have got money, prestige, and an interesting project, we have got subject expertise, reliability and sometimes, sadly, a willingness to work at less than SI recommended fees. We should say no to low pay for an unrealistic deadline because we’re worth it. Some tips for a happy negotiating outcome included:
Experienced Embedded Indexers' Forum (Jo Bottrill of Out of House Publishing Solutions Ltd. and Adele Furbank)
A small group of regular embedded indexers, and a couple of new recruits, were joined by Jo Bottrill, Managing Director of Out of House Publishing Solutions Ltd, who regularly commissions embedded indexes.
After discussing the different types of embedded index, the software we used and the publishers we worked for we moved on to consider the advantages of embedded indexes from the alternative viewpoints of indexers and publishers.
From the indexer’s point of view the locators are much more accurate as they take the reader directly to the relevant text on a page, and copying and pasting terms facilitates accuracy. The way we approach the text changes because pages and page numbers have no meaning so we see the concepts/themes as a developing flow. It was agreed that embedded indexing is slower than traditional indexing but with experience, and software, it is possible to speed up quite considerably.
For the publisher there are the well-known advantages of being able to use embedded indexes in ebooks, and to allow the repagination or reflow of the text without requiring a new index. Producing the index at the same time as the first proofs reduces costs and shortens production times. This was one aspect of embedded indexing which concerned the group – depending on the quality of the manuscript, indexing prior to copy-editing throws up many more queries for the indexer. Also, copy editors making changes to the text need to make sure they are propagated through to the index.
Jo also demonstrated an ebook with an embedded index, and talked briefly about working with typesetters to iron out the glitches in Word’s indexing tool.
It was a very interesting discussion in which we all learnt something from each other, and I left feeling that our profession would benefit greatly from having more round table discussions of this sort with our publishers.
Sunday 13th September
Indexing Books for Children (Sue Lightfoot)
The workshop began with an overview of the history of indexing children’s books (defined as non-fiction books aimed at children, but not intended for use as school textbooks). The importance of indexing books for children was highlighted as long ago as the 1930s, and since then there have been a few research projects studying children’s use of indexes and the quality of indexes provided; for example, Williams and Bakewell’s 1997 research project Indexes to Children’s Information Books: a study of the provision and quality of book indexes for children at National Curriculum Key Stage 2, funded by the British Library. Theory is not always put into practice, though; all of the publishers who took part in this study agreed that indexes should be provided in books for children, but more than two-thirds confessed that they did not always include one, citing the standard excuses of lack of money/time/space.
Sue then moved on to the question of why children’s books should have indexes, and cited the following reasons:
• Children deserve the same access to the text as adults
• They need to be trained in the use of information books
The second reason for providing indexes is especially relevant to boys – memorably described by Sue as “anoraks in the making” – who tend to prefer dipping into books to find out facts rather than reading them from cover-to-cover as entertainment. Sue pointed out that learning how to use indexes is an important stage in the process of becoming an independent learner. Children who do not know how to use indexes effectively waste time looking for information and become frustrated; poor readers may be discouraged to the point of giving up altogether.
I was reassured to learn that the rules of good practice were the same as for indexes to adults’ books, with a few minor differences. Subheadings and cross-references should generally be avoided in indexes for very young children (“It’s cheating!” “It’s not fair!”). Passing mentions should be ruthlessly ignored. Depending on the type of book, unorthodox entries may be required – the example Sue showed us was a book about “amazing facts” with entries for biggest/strongest/fastest…(animal, building, etc.); one case where subheadings are helpful.
Next we all took out the books we had brought with us and began assessing the indexes (those of us with small children took notes of any interesting ones for future reference). This was a very useful exercise, as we considered the differences of approach for different age groups and contemplated some problems that the indexer of adult books rarely faces (fitting the index around an illustration, for example). Sue ended the workshop by emphasising the importance of accuracy and consistency in indexes for children. They are harsh critics, and those with poor reading skills are easily discouraged (“It doesn’t work, Miss!”). Good indexes are an important aid to education, and indexing children’s books is a task that should be performed to the highest professional standards.
Indexing Islamic Materials (Peter Andrews and Barbara Hird)
I attended this workshop as someone who had done a little indexing that involved Islamic material, so I had some superficial knowledge – just enough to know how difficult an area this can be. The workshop was led by Barbara Hird and Peter Andrews whose obvious mutual respect and unassuming authority added a particular pleasure to the session.
We started by considering names and sharing resources. There are a number of authoritative sources, but one of the most common approaches was the pragmatic: to follow usage in the text, or, if in doubt consult the author or editor. We also looked at how to approach names where many would, conventionally, be filed together but this might cause problems for the reader.
Dealing with diacritics was another issue, and various solutions to this problem were considered.
Peter and Barbara also circulated various indexes and books so that we could consider different approaches.
Perhaps the hardest part, and one which can arise in dealing with any religious material (and other types) is to avoid giving offence. Here again following authorial practice and being willing to ask advice were seen as particularly important.
Overall it was a most interesting session, and reflected the individuality and creativity that are for me the best features of indexing. I hope that there will be other sessions of this kind that in addition to being informative take us deeper into what we might think of as the philosophical and ethical side of indexing.
Indexing the Past (Ann Hudson)
This workshop addressed the problems of indexing historical documents, including the following questions: ambiguities; changing interpretations of information and artefacts; and applying new knowledge retrospectively. The group was a mixture of newly accredited indexers, experienced indexers and trainees, and the session was designed to ensure that it was relevant to us all.
Practical exercises were handed out and proved a real challenge (at least to some of us!). These were followed by a group discussion and, invaluably, copies of the “correct” answer, which Ann worked through with us. Methods of dealing with the complications of indexing a text containing several similar names, including aristocratic titles, were clearly explained.
It was emphasized that it is essential to identify the potential readership of the document being indexed: for example, readers studying family history will seek every reference, however seemingly insignificant. Ann stressed the need for meticulous research when dealing with personal names, and the inadvisability of making assumptions: she also dealt with the issue of filing order and overlapping historical periods.
This was a very useful workshop and I would recommend it.
Time Management (Wendy Simpson)
(or: Don’t forget to feed the cat)
As a ‘yellow spotter’ at the York conference this year, I was spoilt for choice for sessions to attend that would potentially be useful for me. I decided to opt for Wendy Simpson’s Time Management workshop, not least because I had missed out on her pre-conference run of this session in my home town of Sheffield earlier this summer. My email in-box had quickly filled up with people expressing their interest in attending and by the time I had got my act together, it was too late. All these people couldn’t be wrong: this must be something worth going to!
So, on Sunday morning I found myself in a seminar room eager to learn about time management. However, whilst the other workshop attendees arrived I found myself starting to wonder whether this session really would be useful for me: what would I get out of it? As a trainee indexer I haven’t yet received any ‘real’ commissions, let alone struggled with how to organise myself to do them effectively. Then again, I increasingly find it a challenge to fit in indexing things around the demands of work and my 3 year old: accreditation seems tantalisingly close, yet still a huge hurdle to leap. I quickly discovered that I was in good company: the attendees were approximately 50:50 split between trainees who had the same sort of issues as myself, and more experienced indexers. Of these ‘active’ indexers, some wanted to find ways to actually cut down their indexing commitments (hmph! the chance would be a fine thing!), and others who just wanted to check they were doing things right.
The workshop itself consisted of a number of topics for thought and discussion. There were plenty of opportunities for us to reflect on the way we do things (and why) and to discuss this with our neighbours and in the wider group. In fact the informal nature of the workshop meant that everyone felt able to participate and share their experiences and tips, so the session was far removed from a dull PowerPoint presentation – and much the better for that.
We started by looking at general time management techniques, such as looking at our behaviour: how we use our time, and how to recognise procrastination; the effective use of to-do-lists and how we can use these to reflect our overall business and/or personal goals. We then moved on to how we can manage ourselves effectively as indexers, in order to make realistic plans for what we can actually achieve in a given timescale – building in backup plans should things go wrong, and generally being organised and assertive communicators. Throughout all these topics was the underlying thread that effective time management leads to reduced stress, and that sounded good to me! A lot of what was covered was, of course, simple common sense, but a great strength of this session was that Wendy didn’t just talk in the abstract about time management techniques, but she backed everything up with concrete examples. For instance, she provided us with a simple but effective spreadsheet template that we can use for organising our own workload (when we get one) and planning our time, and in which, crucially, we can shuffle things around should dates slip or things need to be juggled. I am very grateful not to have to reinvent the wheel on that one – thanks, Wendy! Also, I imagine that I am not alone in finding that indexing is a great devourer of time: I get my head down to tackle a project and then when I look at my watch am amazed to see that two hours has passed. (When in ‘the zone’ I am apparently oblivious to my husband’s mutterings, or the more insistent wails of the hungry cat!) Then when I eventually emerge, bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed from an intensive indexing session, I find that I can do nothing else all day. I learned that I will be more productive over a day if I actually build in planned breaks: again, not earth-shattering perhaps, but I think I needed someone to tell me this in order to put it to action.
So then, what did I get out of the workshop? As well as a whole heap of practical tips and tools that will stand me in good stead for when I finally start to take on ‘real’ indexing work, I found that this session gave me a good opportunity for reflection: to take a step back and see what I could achieve in realistic terms over the next few weeks and months, to work towards my big overall objective of achieving accreditation. In fact, the same could be said of the conference as a whole: it’s given me a big motivation boost and I have reaffirmed that yes, indexing is something that I really want to do.
Now then, where’s my to-do list? ‘Write Time Management article’ – tick! What’s next – ah yes, better feed the cat.
The British Education Index: practice over time and the contemporary context (Phil Sheffield, British Education Index, University of Leeds)
Now more than fifty years old, British Education Index has evolved from
the mini themed bibliographies of its early days to the sophisticated
search methods and full text on offer today.
Using Teachers : Training as his example, Phil Sheffield followed changes
in terminology used over the years to Teacher Education which is the
current preferred term in the thesaurus. He stressed the value of
maintenance for a thesaurus, and explained the structured approach used to
decide term inclusion.
It is always refreshing to listen to someone who speaks our language, and
cares about the quality of indexing. The quality of UK education should
also be dear to our hearts; it was rather alarming to realise that no
government department currently includes Education in its name.
International Session (Chaired by Jill Halliday)
Following the Society of Indexers trial of the ‘Jobs List’ the International session at conference was an opportunity to hear whether, and how, our fellow Societies around the world run schemes to advertise offers of work to their members.
Bonnie Hanks, Director of the American Society for Indexing (ASI), described their jobslist system, which runs along very similar lines to the one trialled in the UK. Members who are on the Indexers Available list are eligible for the jobslist, and their continued eligibility is checked each year. ASI’s experience has been that the system is not used by established publishers, who will always go to their regular indexers, but has instead been used by authors/institutions who have no experience of commissioning indexes. If very low fees are offered the list moderator will go back to the commissioning institution to suggest they review it, or post the job with a flag warning of poor terms.
Ruth Pincoe, International Liaison officer of the Indexing Society of Canada (ISC), explained that they have no jobslist at the moment but had been considering a system of monthly registration where anyone enquiring would be sent three names from Indexers Available. The names would be taken from those indexers who had indicated that they would be available that month, although this would obviously be more work for the moderator of the list.
John Simkin, President of the Australia and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI), emphasised the importance of regional groups and network contacts. Their experience had been that, in addition to Indexers Available, senior indexers unable to take work they were offered would tend to refer it to those they considered the most able students within their region/network.
The discussion was opened to questions to the floor and Katherine Timberlake of SfEP described their jobslist system which uses a standard template to ensure consistency and comprehensibility in job offers.
The final address was from Wu Zhaolu, Vice President and Secretary General of the Chinese Society of Indexers, speaking through an interpreter. He spoke of the work of the CSI to promote indexing in China including an agreement recently reached with the Government to produce an index to the Shanghai Daily newspaper.