The Society of Indexers

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Scottish Group




The Scottish Group was the first of the Society’s Local Groups to be formed, in 1986, by Anne McCarthy and Moyra Forrest. It formed the model for other Groups.

Our membership of about 60 is spread out over the whole of Scotland (30,400 square miles), including members in the Western Isles and Shetland. We meet twice a year, in April/May and September/October, usually for an afternoon. 
Anyone visiting Scotland is very welcome to join our meetings.

The Group Coordinator is Linda Clark .


Next Meeting:   Tuesday 25th April 2017.

Visit to the Hunterian at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, followed by lunch.


Scottish Group visit to SCRAN 3rd October 2016

SCRAN, the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network started around 20 years ago. It was an idea of its era.  Serendipitously, the concept developed around the same time as the technologies evolved to expedite it.

The vision of digitising cultural resources materialised as the first digital cameras and scanners came on to the market. SCRAN acquired a grant via the Heritage Lottery Fund and disbursed this to Scottish institutions to digitise their collections. The collection comprises still and video images and sound. There are around half a million items in the collection. The resource is predominantly Scottish, although the V&A, the British Museum and the Getty Archive have all contributed material.

The material is available online via a subscription service. Most library services, HE and FE institutions and around half the schools in Scotland subscribe to and use this resource. Effectively, most users living in Scotland can access SCRAN freely using their library card.

Eight years ago, SCRAN came  under the umbrella of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), which last year merged with Historic Scotland to form Historic Environment Scotland (HES). SCRAN, while available online, has a physical home within HES in Edinburgh. The  Scottish group visited the Search Room, or library,  there this month. Andrew James, the Education Officer for SCRAN, talked us through the resource most enthusiastically. Now all but one of us can access it from home!

While we were there, Veronica Fraser, the Accessions Programme Manager for HES, showed us some of the accumulated HES collections, both in the Print Room and online. These collections tend not to be publicly available elsewhere, and focus on the built environment. We saw a beautiful architectural drawing, submitted but never built, for the Scott Monument in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Many architecture practice papers are held, and a large body of material on industrial archaeology, reflecting the interests of Professor John Hume, who retired as Chief Inspector of Historic Buildings in 1999 after 15 years within the organisation.

Online, we saw the Canmore collection, reflecting Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime history. The visit was fascinating, and certainly left me considerably better informed about my heritage, as I think it did us all.

We adjourned to  a local bistro for lunch, and to discuss a very enjoyable meeting.


Linda Clark


Meeting Report March 2016. BBC Scotland Archive


The Scottish group, as well as eight members from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), met at BBC Scotland at Pacific Quay, Glasgow, on 2nd March, to learn about the broadcaster’s digital and physical tape archives. We were met by Jennifer Wilson, who started at BBC Scotland as a bi-media librarian almost 20 years ago, and is now their Data and Taxonomy Manager.

After collecting our security passes, we walked through the terraces and platforms of the building’s bright atrium to our meeting room. Jennifer explained that when the broadcasters moved to this custom-built headquarter in 2007, a new system, ‘Fabric’, designed by Ardendo, was launched to replace the 40-year-old card catalogue system, Infax. Seven years later, Infax was still in use as many cataloguers and users found Fabric difficult to use. Jennifer highlighted the fact that many Media Asset Management (MAM) vendors struggle with the taxonomic aspects of such projects, despite having the technical know-how. This type of issue is not, it seems, unfamiliar to indexers.

 When Jennifer and her team started work on improving the digital archive, they were faced with the challenge of matching fields from three databases that would cover radio and TV in every genre. Until six years ago, the International Press Telecommunications Council's (IPTC) taxonomy was used. This helped manage limits on top terms and branches and was easy to use, but it was weak on arts and social science terms and the international committee process required to add new terms was costly and slow. Now, media managers are solely responsible for such taxonomic decisions.

The structure of the database had to reflect the fact that most people now use free text searches, scrolling through the results until they find what they want, as though using Google. For example, features such as a ‘did you mean’ dialogue boxes prompt users to consider other terms to get more accurate results.  Many indexers pointed out that free text searches are an inferior way of looking for information, but Jennifer said that, despite database training sessions, users continued to search in this way. This really gave me something to reflect on, coming from a generation that can hardly remember searching for information any other way, certainly on web-based forums. Jennifer also had to replace the field ‘taxonomy’ with ‘tags’ as less than 0.1% of users used the former, unfamiliar term when cataloguing or searching for material.

The success of the archive is reflected by the fact that it is now used by over 780 people, including librarians (‘media managers’), directors, and journalists, and is seen as the heart of the production process. In July this year, it is due to go completely file-based, containing footage made up from transmission, and requests for footage from 2007 onwards. There is more of a focus on storing files produced by the BBC, as the rights for those made by independent companies are not retained by the corporation. Production teams can search for and access all rushes and decide which ones to keep and can then ask the library to store certain shots. These shots can then be re-used in other productions; in fact re-use of footage is the main remit of the archive these days. Users can now also do a durational search, which is especially useful for radio programmers looking for, say, a two-minute filler before the news. 

In response to a question about security and longevity, Jennifer explained that network commissions are stored in London as well as in Scotland.  Any documents no longer required by the BBC tend to go to the British Film Institute (BFI) or the National Library.  There are strict protocols for deleting files.  Initially, all footage was stored on two separate servers, as well as physically on tape.  Now, it is just stored on two servers.  There are, however, physical archives, including motion picture film; one- and two-inch videotape; Betamax tapes; DigiBeta tapes; and XD cam discs.  The Betamax tapes are currently being digitized and the one- and two-inch tapes have already been converted.  Film is the most stable physical format so there’s not such a rush to convert it, but Jennifer is currently trying to get funding through the Film Preservation Project, so that people can more easily access these archives.

After the talk, we went next door to the Science Centre to have lunch in the Board room there .  I’m a new student indexer and the group was very welcoming, with people from both SfEP and SI keen to share their knowledge and experience, which was brilliant.  I’d really recommend coming along to the Group Meetings, whether you’ve been an indexer 40 years, or you’re just starting out.


     Bechaela Walker


Meeting report Autumn 2015

The autumn meeting of the Scottish Indexers group was held in Edinburgh. More than a dozen indexers met at Summerhall for a business lunch. We were joined by six colleagues from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders for a very sociable hour.

Then we visited Birlinn, the largest independent Scottish publisher (as Canongate is essentially now based in London). Our hosts for the afternoon were managing director Hugh Andrew, editorial director Andrew Simmonds - and Millie, the company’s terrier mascot.

Birlinn was established in 1992 by Hugh who, as a freelance sales representative, was often asked for unavailable Scottish reprint titles and saw a gap in the market. The company has expanded by acquisition and now has approximately 1000 books in print. It has about 125 new releases each year, and a turnover in the region of £2.5 million. Between 70% to 80% of its books are rooted in Scotland.

Most, if not all, of its editorial and indexing work is outsourced to trusted freelances. Self-reliance, reliability and accuracy are deemed essential, along with the ability to work to extremely tight time-scales. Most of Birlinn's indexes are professionally produced - they actively discourage authors from doing their own.

Questions related to ebooks, self-publishing, publisher-freelance communications (or lack thereof), book markets, print-on-demand, author relations, index copyright, printers and much more. Discussion was lively and wide-ranging.

Finally, Hugh was asked about the future. He said the advent of ebooks had wrongly foretold the death of print media and he was reluctant to make any predictions. However, Birlinn is looking at the "snippets" market (which will allow the user to purchase small sections of text), children's books, merchandising and ... who knows what!


Natasha Ritchie




Email discussion list

The Scottish Group runs an email-based discussion group that is open to members of the Society.

Further information

For further information, please contact:

Linda Clark

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General information on local group meetings can be found on the local groups information page.

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