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?
Jacqueline Pitchford: After studying Library and Information Science, I started working for a small consultancy firm that monitored and evaluated development projects in South East Asia. I was involved in some library development projects in Pakistan and India. Caroline Diepeveen, currently a colleague indexer [link to Caroline’s profile], was working at the same company at the time. After four years I moved to a more commercial environment, working for two years as an information specialist at the Transportation Practice at the Amsterdam office of McKinsey & Co., one of the leading management consultancy firms. In 1996, I joined KPMG Consulting, where I led a small knowledge management and information department for the Transportation and Logistics department. My main area of work was desk research. I answered questions from consultants on the transportation and logistics market, wrote company and market profiles. In 2003, I changed jobs to work in knowledge management for a public-private research institution.
JP: In 2003, my daughter was born and a reorganization at work meant that my job disappeared. I was looking for a part-time job which at the same time would be interesting; this appeared to be hard to find. I still was in contact with Caroline Diepeveen, my former colleague, who had moved to Aberdeen. She had begun a career in indexing, had a bit too much work and suggested indexing might be an interesting alternative. She outsourced some easy assignments to me, which got me started. In 2004, I started the Society of Indexers training course.
Can you remember your first indexing job and how you felt when you’d finished it?
JP: My first client came through Caroline: a company specializing in indexes for Dutch loose-leaf legal publications. I did a very simple one to start with and for another Dutch publisher I did a couple of name indexes. So very simple jobs to start with; but at the time that was good to get me going.
How long have you been indexing?
JP: Since 2004. In the beginning the assignments were very simple and not always that challenging. Over the years they have got more interesting. As I need to combine my work with my young children, I can only work part time. Being a freelance indexer you have the flexibility to choose you own working hours; you don’t need to ask permission for a day off when your children are sick or when you want to go on holiday. I have about 24 hours available per week. However, the reality is that sometimes you use only ten hours and other weeks you need to spend over 40. So sometimes I spend my evenings, very early mornings or weekends indexing, while at other times I have a few weeks to do some jobs in the house, spend more time with the children or take on some voluntary jobs. I am willing to make the sacrifice of working some unsocial hours for the benefit of flexibility. Apart from indexing, I also do freelance desk research and abstracting assignments. I enjoy the variety in the work.
What do you most enjoy about being an indexer?
JP: To me the big practical advantage is the flexibility. Not only when it comes to how to plan your work but also when it comes to where you work. When I began indexing I lived in The Netherlands. Two years later we moved to Luxembourg for my husband’s work and last year we moved to Germany. Neither of these moves affected my work. As long as there is the internet, my job is not endangered by moves. Looking at it from a professional view, I do like the ‘surprise’ factor: you never know what sort of publication will come your way. As an indexer you get introduced to various subjects, some you never thought of yourself, sometimes very interesting, sometimes tough to get through. This is also where you sometimes need to be careful and realistic when you are about to accept a job; you have to ask yourself ‘is it within my capabilities to deal with this topic?’. I also really enjoy combining indexing work with doing desk research. I happen to index quite a lot of religious and almost philosophical texts. These are intensive and can be quite difficult. It is really nice to do some ‘practice’-oriented desk/market research as an alternative to indexing.
Freelancers sometimes feel isolated – how do you keep in touch with professional colleagues?
JP: I don’t miss being amongst other colleagues at all. I actually feel more productive working on my own, not being disturbed by meetings, coffee and lunch breaks, etc. I have a good network of British, Dutch and German colleague indexers who I can contact when I need to. Also SIdeline (the SI email discussion list) is a good way to keep in touch with fellow indexers. And then of course there are sometimes the team indexing projects, such as the index for the Encyclopedia. It is nice to work together and to jointly deliver a good product. It also makes you more aware of the differences in working styles between indexers.
What about other interests? What do you do in your ‘spare’ time and how do you relax?
JP: Because I read so much for my work and because of the busy social schedules of my children, I noticed that I spend less time reading for myself. Instead I enjoy other hobbies, such as (Nordic) walking, playing the piano and cooking. Because my partner and I both lack the time for reading ourselves we sometimes read to one another before we go to bed. I can recommend it to anyone; it is very relaxing! Apart from my indexing I am involved in many school activities, such as the school library. Also, in a wine-producing village such as ours, there are often events where volunteers are needed to help out.
What’s been your best moment as an indexer?
JP: The best moments are always when I feel my work is being appreciated. When an author or editor comes back to you on his/her own initiative telling you they are pleased with your work. Being awarded the Wheatley Medal is a great honour too. Things like these give a great boost to your motivation.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as an indexer?
JP: Indexing is interesting for those who want to work part time and from home, and at the same time are looking for a non-routine job from which they can learn and through which they can broaden their general knowledge. However, first ask yourself whether you are flexible enough to work non-standard working hours, whether you can do without the daily company of colleagues, and whether you will be able to separate work and private life in your home environment. This goes of course for most freelancers. Also, have enough other sources of income within your family. Indexing jobs don’t always pay very well and I don’t think I could maintain my family from the amount of work I am currently doing.
What about the future – where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
JP: At the moment I’m quite happy with how things are. I don’t know whether I will feel the need to go out to work once the children are older. Time will tell.