Winner of the Wheatley Medal 2011
Winning index: Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Norman Stillman (executive editor), published by Brill
Life before indexing?
Caroline Diepeveen: After a BA in Political Science and an MA in International Relations, both at the University of Amsterdam, I did postgraduate research at the London School of Economics and various Dutch universities, before I became involved in development cooperation as a management consultant. Then, we started a family and were relocated to Scotland because of my husband’s work in the oil industry.
CD: I was longing to go back to work. I did not know how long we would be in Scotland for and I did not want to start all over again upon our next relocation. At first, I thought translating would be the ideal line of work for me, but while researching it, I found information on indexing. The combination of learning a new skill and using the knowledge I had gained from my studies appealed to me, and I enrolled onto the Society of Indexers course.
Can you remember your first indexing job and how you felt when you’d finished it?
CD: My first indexing assignment came about shortly after I finished the course. When the proofs arrived it turned out to be much more of a military book than the international politics book the editor had promised me. The editor said I would do fine and I did not want to cause problems by refusing the job at this late stage. The index I produced was not a very good one, I’m afraid. I got paid for it, but the editor did not give me any further jobs. Ever since, I have never been afraid to refuse jobs outside my fields of expertise and I try never to compromise on quality.
How long have you been indexing?
CD: I’ve been indexing since 1998. I’ve always combined indexing with my family responsibilities. We adopted two girls from China while we were living in Scotland. Back in The Netherlands, we welcomed a Dutch/Vietnamese foster-daughter into our family and we are about to take in another foster child. I’ve never been short of indexing work, and I’m sure I could index full-time if I wanted to. However, I find the combination of indexing intellectually challenging texts and taking care of children from broken homes most satisfying.
What do you most enjoy about being an indexer?
CD: The intellectual challenge of indexing academic texts with high levels of abstraction. While doing contract research at universities, I discovered that I have a fairly short attention span. The variety of subjects that an indexer has to deal with ensures that I never get bored.
Freelancers sometimes feel isolated – how do you keep in touch with professional colleagues?
CD: Living in The Netherlands, I don’t have a local group to go to. I try to go to one indexing conference per year. Usually, this is the SI conference, but occasionally I go to a conference of one of the other indexing societies. Our prize-winning index shows, though, that indexing does not have to be such a lonely profession. There are perhaps more possibilities for team-indexing than we think.
What about other interests? What do you do in your ‘spare’ time and how do you relax?
CD: I attend tai chi classes for relaxation, and I do French conversation classes for fun. Apart from that, I am a parent-member of the board of our local secondary school and I run a very small charity that supports the orphanage of one of our Chinese daughters.
What’s been your best moment as an indexer?
CD: The index that won the Wheatley Medal. It was a technically challenging project and as a team indexing effort, it had lots of other challenges as well. But most of all, the texts on Jews in the Islamic world were fascinating. The family on my mother’s side consists of Spanish/Iraqi/Persian Jews who came to Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries. In a way, I was indexing my own history.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as an indexer?
CD: As an indexer you will also be running your own business. Make sure that you like the business aspects of indexing as well. It’s very important to train as an indexer, e.g. by doing the SI course. But it’s equally important to acquire business skills, such as marketing, negotiating and writing a business plan.
What about the future – where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
CD: We have dreams of buying a ‘ferme fortifié’ in Southern France. I will still be indexing, but in the sun, hopefully.