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Annual Conference 2005, Exeter

Connections: Working in the Present — Learning from the Past

The Society of Indexers Annual Conference ‘Connections: Working in the Present — Learning from the Past’ took place at the University of Exeter on8–10 July 2005.

The Society of Indexers Conference for 2005 was held at the University of Exeter from 8th to the 10th July. It was notable for glorious weather, beautiful gardens and the lively and friendly atmosphere members encountered in the meeting rooms, dining hall and, of course, the bar.

Elaine Taylor, on behalf of the organisers, warmly welcomed everyone to the conference and Maureen McGlashan (retiring president) chaired the opening session.


Michèle Clarke’s talk was particularly appropriate given the horticultural profusion outside and was an enjoyable romp through the ‘nuts and bolts’ of indexing gardening books. Michèle is a gardening enthusiast judging by the beautiful slides of her own garden and her talk was very accessible and well-structured.

She covered in turn Latin plant names, common names, what else to index, styles for entries, problems and helpful resources.

She outlined the hierarchical structure of Latin nomenclature and recommended The Plant Finder and the Gardeners’ Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers, both published by the Royal Horticultural Society, as useful sources for these names. The naming system looks complex but has the advantage of consistency.

Common names can suffer from a lack of standardisation, for example Rosa eglanteria is known as sweet briar or eglantine. She recommended double posting of common names with a descriptive first name. With vegetables, fruits and herbs ideally you should cross-reference from the Latin names to the common ones. With regard to styles for entries, Latin names should be in italics but not varieties, hybrids and cultivars. For common names use Roman style, and lower case except for proper names.

Alphabetization can be a problem. Sometimes it helps to break the rules of word-by-word or letter-by-letter arrangement to make the most logical order for the user. Other problems are typical to all disciplines and she included negotiations or typographical solutions to accommodate the size of an index, viz more room, smaller font, more columns and run-on style.

Semi-automatic Indexing

The next speaker offered a challenging contrast in content and style. Fabio Ciravegna, Professor of Language and Knowledge Technologies at the University of Sheffield, explained that his work on the semi-automatic annotation (or ‘indexing’) of documents was driven by the fact that knowledge workers spend up to 35% searching for “knowledge” at an inefficiency cost to the knowledge industry of some $35 billion a year.

The Web is human-oriented and not easily tractable by machines, a problem Professor Ciravegna’s Semantic Web-based tool seeks to address. Ontology-driven annotation of the original document makes retrieval of information in the document that much easier. The document may then be enriched by attaching ‘services’ in the shape of hyperlinks to supplementary information available in the outside world. And it may be further enriched by the incorporation of ‘braindump’ comments in the shape of free text annotations inserted using editorial tools available in applications such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. ‘Braindump’ comments add value to the text by providing supplementary information or explanation, but typically they are ‘private’ to the organization concerned and not available to non-privileged users. The ‘semi-automaticity’ reflects the fact that annotation of the document is continuously monitored throughout the editing process, the system learning from previous annotations and suggesting new ones. The user’s acceptance, rejection or correction of these suggestions feeds back into the learning process until such time as, for one reason or another, the user stops “correcting” and the learning process deteriorates. This semi-automaticity leads to a saving of 80% of annotation time and acts as a bridge between the professional annotator/indexer providing the initial ontology and the ‘naïve’ annotator/indexer whose input tells the professional how it really is, what the user actually wants to know and how he expects to get there – professional automaticity cannot for the moment manage without human refinement..

Dinner and After Dinner in the DNB

Dinner on Friday evening was followed by a talk from Philip Carter, Publications Editor at the Oxford DNB. Philip gave a highly entertaining and illuminating speech which whetted the appetite of delegates to explore the New Dictionary of National Biography for themselves. He showed how the new edition had grown out of the old, and had in fact grown enormously, with 16000 new people, many of them women, and greater diversity of criteria for inclusion.

The New DNB is published on-line so that the potential for research is greatly enhanced, and Philip illustrated this through searching for references to dinner and dining which proved to be a rich lode of curiosity and entertainment. In the kitchen forty individuals had contributed to British cuisine and illustrated shifts in taste and style. References to some entries commented on their congeniality (or otherwise, see Charles Greville) as dining companions. British eccentricity was evident in the man who ate his way through the animal kingdom and the female mountaineer who snacked on sponge cake and champagne.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny so that members cheerfully tackled the complexities of the campus geography, and assembled in expectant mood to listen to Dr Nicholas Hiley.

Indexing Images

Indexing non-verbal material in the form of visual images may appear to be an unpromising, if not totally alien, notion to the word-bound indexer. Dr Hiley was able to demonstrate to even the most sceptical of indexers both the indexability of visual material, and the value of indexing it for users of the collection at the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricatures.

Many user requests, we learnt, are very specific, such as cartoons featuring Tony Blair’s teeth or Margaret Thatcher’s handbag, which, of course, means that every image of the notorious grin and infamous handbag has to be indexed. Likewise, any other items of potential interest appearing in the cartoon alongside the main topic is indexed ‘in fanatical detail’. An example of this was the indexing of the names of every newspaper shown in a 1970s cartoon featuring a room overflowing with precariously high stacks of newspapers. It suffices to say that the name of every newspaper (and there were many) was visible – and each had its own index entry.

One anecdote related how the cartoonist Jak, of the Evening Standard, included a Reckitt and Colman product (notably Dettol) in his cartoons – a marketing ruse to sell the originals to the named company. Another interesting snippet was the fact that until the late 1960s the Queen’s face was never shown in cartoons.

The context in which images originally appeared on the printed page is also of great interest to many researchers, and a feature of the collection’s future development is the digitising and cataloguing of the textual settings of the cartoons.

Who, then, are the users of this collection? They range from researchers, authors and the media to teachers and students, and the collection is available online to anyone with an interest. It can be accessed, free of charge, at Just register your reason for browsing the collection as ‘out of curiosity’.

Copy Editors Panel

The next session was a panel of copy editors introduced by Laura Hicks. Panellists were Richard Duguid, Frances Brown and Peter Nickol. Richard Duguid has worked in the copy-editorial department of Penguin Books for 19 years. He began by noting that often his test for whether a book warranted an index was simply whether the publishing schedule allowed time for one. He went on to discuss author indexes: authors often index their own books as otherwise they would be responsible for paying an indexer. He also mentioned (to the alarm of several delegates) that authors sometimes amend and occasionally completely redo indexes at proof stage.

Next up was Frances Brown, a freelance copy-editor with 25 years’ experience mainly on archaeology titles for Cambridge University Press (CUP). An amusing anecdote highlighted the potential hazards of computer indexing. She was puzzled by the excessive references to ‘bears’ in the index to a book on the archaeology of Korea; closer examination of the text revealed that these were actually phrases such as ‘bears resemblance’! Frances discussed the CUP XML system – terming it ‘potentially hideous’ for indexers – and acknowledged the greater liaison that it requires between copy-editor and indexer.

The final speaker was Peter Nickol, who worked for A & C Black for several years on their songbooks for junior schools. In this job, he gained experience of everything from choosing the songbook’s theme, through setting the music and text, to writing the blurb and selling to the customer. Peter ended with a discussion of several music book indexes with which he had been involved.

The panel had time to answer a few questions, on such topics as why authors have to pay for the index and concerns over the XML system. Overall, it was an interesting and thought-provoking session, raising several points for further consideration.

Myth of the Re-usable Index

Bill Johncocks explained how he personally frequently uses embedded indexes, which are often promoted on the basis of time savings, resilience and index re-usability. The time savings, are, in fact, time shifts of the indexing to earlier in the publishing process, rather than a reduction in the time spent by the indexer. Index re-usability is usually over-optimistic. Editing, he said, is to make an index consistent, usable and attractive within its current context, and this context is damaged or lost where only a portion of the text is re-used. For example, an index to a book on Antarctic exploration would contain no actual headings for the Antarctic and, though it would be tempting to think that some chapters could easily be relevant to a book on Arctic exploration, to transfer the chapter with its embedded entries, without human intervention and re-editing, would result in gibberish. Similarly, the text itself could contain phrases such as “the procedure explained in Chapter 7”, which again doesn’t work if you no longer have Chapter 7 included in the new book. Additions to the text can be accommodated, but deletions are dangerous. In his view, the fundamental problem is that models for automatic indexing see an index as something extracted, while indexers view it as something added. (Read Bill’s article [ from The Indexer, October 2005 issue.)

Libraries and museums in the South West

Angela Haynes and Richard Munro, both with South West Museums Libraries and Archives Council, spoke on the South West’s response to Investing in Knowledge, the national agenda for Museums Libraries and Archives. Angela outlined the Framework for the Future programme, referring to digital citizenship and the future extension of the People’s Network beyond public libraries to home use, and Inspiring Learning for All, which sought to achieve greater community involvement. The vision for the future also includes a Literature Matters programme to regenerate parts of the school curriculum.

Richard Munro (who is a member of SI as well as working with SWMLAC) described the Renaissance in the Regions programme for the revitalisation of museums in the South West. This will be achieved through the creation of the South West Museums Hub, initially focussing on the five most significant museums in the South West. Community involvement was again a vital part of the programme, and one part of this outreach was the introduction of "Museum in Transit" vans to take samples of the collection out to the schools and the wider community.

Delegates had a choice of seminars after lunch while a small group visited Exeter Cathedral Library.


A panel comprising Ann Hudson, Paula Peebles, Liza Furnival and Alan Rutter took questions from new indexers. This was a lively session which promised to take up the rest of the afternoon. The panel pooled their extensive experience to advise questioners on combining indexing with a part-time job, marketing, business practice, projecting a professional image (don’t let the two year old answer the phone), deadlines (flexible or otherwise), and the misery of finding errors in the published index (or even in Alan’s case, the wrong index!)

Karen Cooley took a seminar on Assertiveness, and Databases was lead by Caroline Barlow.

Auriol Griffith-Jones and John Silvester conducted a seminar on indexing the social sciences. They started by giving overviews of their areas of work, and some thoughts on the particular problems in this very varied area.

Problems included the quality of the English in some texts, heavy (sometimes impenetrable) use of jargon, inconsistency of terminology in multi-authored works, copious amounts of ‘quoting and citing’, the habits of certain philosophers and buzz-words of intruding into many and varied texts, and the feeling of ‘floundering’ which may eventually overcome the indexer.

In the ensuing discussion, many rules for treating references and citations were touched upon, but consulting the commissioning editor had to be the ultimate solution. Other concerns included the separation of closely-related concepts, the use of see alsos in difficult cases, dealing with footnotes and endnotes, and coping with chapters consisting only of reviews of the literature.

The session was a very helpful opportunity to examine and share some of the peculiarities of indexing in this area.

Sue Lightfoot consulted members on the SI workshops programme. Tutors Ann Hudson, Derek Copson and Joan Dearnley joined the session in order to explain the coverage, structure and levels of the current programme, and to find out how to improve on this in order to make workshops more useful and accessible for members. Discussion covered difficulties people faced in travelling, taking time off from work and having to book early. The development of on-line workshops may answer some of these problems and `Getting to grips with the text’ is about to be launched in this form. Delegates were urged to complete the questionnaire being circulated at the conference to help the organisers tailor the workshops programme to the needs of as many people as possible.

After tea and another opportunity to enjoy the sunshine delegates again chose between three sessions. Those who were interested in defence were treated to a lively, entertaining and interesting session under the command of Richard Munro, who led a party of thirteen indexers through the minefield of military indexing, pointing out traps to be avoided along the way and strategies for survival in this hostile environment.

Richard was a recent member of staff in the Imperial War Museum and is currently the manager for the South West Regional Museum Hub under the Renaissance in the Regions initiative. As well as his 30 years of military experience he is also a serving TA officer and a veteran helicopter pilot, all of which made him an ideal leader for the session.

Topics included the huge range of military acronyms and jargon, including the various euphemisms for kill used by the military. The problems of changing names and ranks used by various people during their careers was well illustrated by reference to the Duke of Wellington, and his varied names, ranks and titles. The confusing nature of unit names and organisation were covered together with the fine distinctions of ranks within and across the services. The Royal Navy was not left out with a discussion of the confusion that can arise from the names of ships. Even the names of battles provide traps for the unwary, with some battles having different names depending on the which side is discussing them, the classic example being the battles of Bull Run/ Manassas from the American Civil War.

The session concluded with an animated discussion about where to file units, either as main entries or as subheadings under the main heading British Army, the consensus being that they generally go under British Army because that is what the user will expect. This discussion was so animated that the session overran and fourteen sheepish indexers had to join the next session late.

Max McMaster guided a packed meeting room through the requirements for indexing educational texts. He covered both primary and secondary phases having established how the Australian school system compared with our own. He queried the audience for educational texts which in early readers could include parents and teachers as well as children. He emphasised the need for strategies to help children to find information without guidance and without losing interest, for example few page references to an entry and possibly putting main references first. Greater sophistication can be added as pupils move up to secondary school but he believed it was still necessary to make life easy for pupils by keeping entries short and avoiding cross-references.

Jill Halliday headed a session on indexing science in which three indexers representing a broad range of sciences spoke for a few minutes, followed by general discussion.

Advice which emerged:

  • Be realistic regarding subject matter: you must be familiar with the terminology — not just the words themselves — but their meaning in context. However, you will not always be able to work wholly within your particular “comfort zone” of knowledge — you will need to deal with texts which reach into other subject areas.
  • Problems may include: differences in usage and spelling; frequent use of acronyms; multi-author books and journals where contributions are lacking in copy-editing or may have been translated; research-level publications introducing completely new ideas and terms.
  • Be aware of sources of help: bookmark useful (and trustworthy) websites; current reference books can be invaluable; use SI expertise (occasional publications; articles in SIdelights; ask on SIdeline). Drug and chemical names are a particular challenge (guidance in Pat Booth’s book). Many in-house editors are not subject specialists, so won’t necessarily be able to answer queries. Consider rationalising anomalies yourself, with an explanatory note to the editor.
  • Above all, know your limits.

Business Aspects of Indexing

Everyone gathered together again in the main lecture hall to learn from Derek Copson’s experience in the business aspects of indexing. Professional abilities alone are not enough to get you work. To create the golden triangle you need CPD (continuous professional development) and business acumen. We have CPD this weekend with informative talks, workshops, and conversations with our fellow freelancers. Keep up to date in your own subject areas. Last but certainly not least, is business acumen.

Communication and assertiveness are key, and you might have to push yourself in this. When telephoning clients or potential clients sit up straight, clear your desk, and have pen and paper ready. Be efficient and organised. Derek knows someone who gets up early, dresses for work, goes out of the house and comes straight back to the home office. Do it if it works for you.

Positiveness is important. The answer’s ‘Yes’. What’s the question? Focus on the person you are talking to on the telephone. E-mail communication is acceptable now and the problem there is how to address people when you don’t know them. Do you act formally or use “Hi, John/Jane”! Do what they do.

A warning about the telephone: be sure that yours isn’t answered during business hours by someone who doesn’t do it in a businesslike way, e.g. a child. To find out if you are competent on the telephone, listen to how the professional receptionists answer. Always say who is speaking. An answerphone is essential.

Keep in touch. It costs six times as much to get a new client as to keep an old one. You send out dozens of CVs, getting few or no replies, so follow up all contacts. Send them birthday cards, Christmas cards, leaving cards. They might take you with them to the new company.

It is vital to be fully insured and declare on your insurance policy that you are working on your own. They could query it later. You need Fire, Accident, Personal Accident, Illness, Household and Property insurance, especially if you have a laptop that is used away from home. Apparently two or three laptops go missing every day from the British Library at Kew.

Pensions and savings. Derek suggested the Society of Indexers appoint an independent financial adviser for its members.

Motivation and goal-setting are vital. Write up your goals and set yourself a deadline, tick off what you have achieved.

Finally, keep in touch with your editors, reminding them you are there.

The glass walls of the dining hall offered wide views over Exeter and the surrounding countryside and made an attractive environment to relax over a good dinner while enjoying the last of the evening sunshine. Following the Conference Dinner on Saturday the Betty Moys Prize for the best newly accredited indexer was awarded jointly to Pauline Davis, Louise Secker and Sue Edwards. Professor John Sutherland then presented the 2005 Wheatley Medal to Hazel Bell for her index to Seven pillars of wisdom: the complete 1922 Oxford text by T.E. Lawrence, published by J. and N. Wilson. Also commended were Moira Greenhalgh for the index to Blackstone’s Criminal Practice 2005 published by OUP, and Sylvia Potter for West European Politics: a 25-year index 1978-2002 published by Frank Cass.

Mentoring Scheme in Australia

Sunday morning began with an account from Max McMaster of the mentoring scheme operated in Australia by the Victoria branch of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers. This has been developed to give newly-trained indexers working experience under the guidance of an established indexer.

A list has been compiled of suitable unindexed books and journals, mostly nineteenth-century, available in libraries. Mentees are free to suggest other texts, but most select something from this list.

Mentor and mentee are in contact from the beginning of the project, usually by email or telephone; after an initial consultation to discuss approaches and strategies, the mentee indexes the first 40-50 pages of the text and sends the result to the mentor for comment. Support thereafter is given on request; most pairs have five or six consultations over about two months. The final task of the mentor is to check the completed index against the book. There is a fee for participation, and mentors are paid.

If the index is satisfactory, it is published in the ANZSI Index Series and marketed direct to libraries holding the publication, for a nominal charge (an incentive to choose widely held texts).

All win – library, mentee, and ANZSI’s public visibility.

Internet Security

Next, beautifully ’tailored’ for indexers’ needs, Andy Taylor gave a succinct, robust but non-alarmist resume of the current state of information and internet security.

Focussing on risks, countermeasures and BS 7799 he alerted us to the CIA (confidentiality, integrity, availability) and non-repudiation necessary for our protection in using email and the internet.

Ranging from unsuspected uses of “Pringles” tubes to switching off broadband when not in use, he conveyed complex information in an accessible, and sometimes fun, manner. It was interesting to hear that gut feeling may make us wary of bad emails and viruses.

If trouble strikes, he advised us to turn off our PCs pronto (Macs so far are less vulnerable) – and prepare to fork out for necessary repair.

It may sound rather daunting but he offered good reasons for the necessity for taking sensible and appropriate precautions, We pride ourselves on our reputations, for offering client confidentiality if requested, and compliance with e.g. the Data Protection Act.

Useful tips included using Panda as a firewall, checking out the NISCC website, and looking at

In summary, be very careful, don’t trust unexpected messages and keep up to date with information about and methods of securing your software. Hardware problems seem less relevant to our scale of both needs and pockets.

Overseas Reports

After coffee, reports from indexing societies overseas. This year’s international panel consisted of Max McMaster from Australia, Ruth Pincoe from Canada and Frances Lennie from the USA. All brought warm greetings from their respective societies.

Max reported that as of November 2004 he was representing ANZSI – the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers – which now has some 200 members of whom 30 are from New Zealand. The winner of the 2004 ANSZI medal was a New Zealander. The newly enlarged society held its first conference in Melbourne in 2005 and the 2007 conference will also be held in Melbourne – a great place, Max told us.

Ruth reported that 35 people had attended the IASC/SCAD conference in Ottawa in June, a good turn out considering the distances many members have to travel to attend. IASC/SCAD is currently involved in the 2006 international conference, to be held jointly with the ASI. They have also set aside money to strengthen local groups. Members now have access to the SI training course. Ruth finished by telling us that the Society wished to simplify its name and design a new logo.

The ASI now has some 800 members and Frances was pleased to report an increase in the number of new members with more younger people joining. This year’s four day conference was held in Pasadena and was very successful with 150 members attending. The Society now has 13 chapters ranging from ten to more than 100 members. Approximately half of the membership is city based with the remainder being dispersed in rural areas, probably due to take-up of the USDA training programme. Some chapters cover huge areas and the Board has approved electronic meetings. The ASI has now licensed the SI training course and is Americanising it in hopes of rolling it out early in 2006.

The AGM followed. Professor John Sutherland was formally elected as Honorary President of the Society. Gifts were presented to retiring President Maureen McGlashan, retiring Chairman Michèle Clarke and retiring Executive Board members Drusilla Calvert and Geraldine Beare.

Geraldine then closed the conference with particular thanks to the staff of Exeter University who had done so much to make it a success.

Thanks are due to contributors: Jane Henley, Maureen MacGlashan, Joan Dearnley, Paula Peebles, James Lamb, Alison Brown, Jane Coulter, Alan Rutter, Liz Cook, Rosemary Anderson, Barbara Hird, Moyra Forrest, Hilary Faulkner.


Some of the members of the Society attending the conference

Some of the members of the Society attending the conference. For further information on Society T-shirts please follow this link.

Hazel Bell, recipient of the 2005 Wheatley Medal, with the Society's President, John Sutherland

Hazel Bell, recipient of the 2005 Wheatley Medal, with the Society's President, Professor John Sutherland.

The Society's President, John Sutherland, presenting certificates to the two highly commended indexers, Sylvia Potter and Moira Greenhalgh

The Society's President, John Sutherland, presenting certificates to the two highly commended indexers, Sylvia Potter and Moira Greenhalgh.

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