The Society of Indexers is the only autonomous professional body for indexers in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It was founded by G. Norman Knight after he had placed an advert in the Times Literary Supplement announcing his intention of founding a ‘society of Indexers’ and asking anyone interested to contact him. He received several dozen replies, and the Society of Indexers was formally inaugurated at 10.30 a.m. on Saturday,30 March 1957, with 65 people present. The first National Indexing Day was inaugurated on this date in 2017, in celebration of the Society’s sixtieth anniversary.
The first issue of SI’s learned journal, The Indexer, appeared in March 1958 and contained, amongst other things, a letter of welcome from the Prime Minister of the day, Harold Macmillan (a member of the Macmillan publishing dynasty), and a reprint of a leading article in The Times. Originally published twice a year, it became quarterly in 2008. The Society’s newsletter started life as a typed sheet of A4. It was renamed SIdelights in 1996 and has been published regularly four times a year ever since. It is now delivered electronically. Other newsletters have also been published: the Microindexer, which was produced to help smooth the transition from shoeboxes to computers, appeared between 1983 and 1994, and Trial Trench, produced by the Archaeology Special Interest Group, was published from 1992 until 2001. Indexers Available, a hard copy listing of qualified indexers designed to aid editors searching for a freelance indexers, was issued for the first time in 1982. It moved to online delivery in 1998 when the website was established, and relaunched in 2017 as the Directory of Professional Indexers. A series of ‘Occasional Papers in Indexing’, booklets on the differing skills needed for indexing particular subject, such as biographies and children’s books were also published between 1992 and 2004.
One of the main aims of the society is to promote excellence in indexing, and so one of its first actions was to set up training courses. These have been in place since 1958: at first they were held in London, one day a week for 6–11 weeks, then later concentrated into 4–5 consecutive days. A correspondence course, written by the Society and provided by the Rapid Results College was introduced in 1973. The BIPT (Book Indexing Postal Tutorials) course came into being in 1983, with email replacing snail mail in 2004. The Society’s own accreditation course was introduced on 1 July 1988, with the first accreditations approved in 1990. Both the content and the method of delivery of this course have been updated several times since to reflect the changes in technology. Workshops have followed the same path: one-day courses were renamed ‘workshops’ in 1985 and were originally offered in London, then made available to local groups outside London if the numbers made them viable, and are now available online and at the annual conference. CPD has been encouraged since 1998.
Awards are also important to the Society. The first to be established was the Wheatley Medal, introduced in 1960 by the Library Association (later CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) in association with SI as an annual award for the compiler of the most outstanding index first published in Britain in the preceding year. CILIP ended their association with the Wheatley Medal after the 2003 award, and from 2005 to 2012 it was awarded by SI alone. The Carey Award for outstanding services to indexing was established in 1977 in memory of SI’s first president, Gordon V. Carey, and the Bernard Levin Award for outstanding services to SI, which celebrates the journalist and author who tirelessly supported indexers and indexing, followed in 2000, both as occasional awards. And in 2002 the Betty Moys Prize was established as an annual prize for the best newly accredited indexer, initially funded by a generous legacy left to the society by the distinguished law librarian and legal indexer Betty Moys.
Conferences are now held annually and are a great way to network with colleagues, make new friends and keep up to date with the latest developments in indexing. The first one-day conference was in 1961, held jointly with ASLIB (Association for Information Management). As with the training courses, the first few conferences were held in London, before moving out to regional venues and moving to a two-day format. Occasionally they have moved even further afield; to Hvar, off the coast of Yugoslavia in 1989, Dublin in 1997 and Middelburg in Holland in 2010. The first joint conference with SfEP (now CIEP) was held in 2015 and a parallel conference in 2018. (Our close links with CIEP are outlined in this selective history prepared for the 2015 conference.) Special anniversaries have been celebrated in 1978 (the 21st anniversary conference held in Digby Stuart College, Roehampton), 2007 (the 50th anniversary conference, held in Whitelands College, Roehampton) and 2017 (the 60th anniversary conference, held at St Anne’s College, Oxford).
At first the Society was run from the homes of various officers. By the early 1990s there was an office in Rochester Road, London, the home of an SI member. These premises were shared informally with the SfEP (CIEP) from 1991, with a paid secretary employed by both societies from 1993. In 1996 SI and SFEP moved to an office in Mermaid Court, with a further move for SI in 1999 to the Globe Centre in Sheffield, where a part-time administrator was employed. In 2002 the office moved to the Blades Enterprise Centre, adjacent to Sheffield United’s ground. A rent increase in 2006 resulted in another move, to our current office in the Woodbourn Business Centre in Sheffield, run by our full-time office manager.
At first the Society was run by a Council, but as the membership grew it became obvious that a new approach to the organisation was needed. A review took place in 2003, and was followed in 2004 by the implementation of a new system of governance and management. The Council was replaced by a smaller Executive Board and a Consultative Committee which represented the wider, grass-roots membership, and more of the administrative work was undertaken by full and part-time paid staff in the Society’s offices in Sheffield. In 2007, as well as celebrating its golden anniversary, the Society became incorporated as a company limited by guarantee: the Executive Board became a Board of Directors, which has to run the Society in accordance with the Companies Act, and a code of conduct and a disciplinary procedure were established. This was followed in 2009 by revision of the membership structure to include Student, MSocInd, MSocInd (Adv) and Fellowship grades for qualified members, and ordinary and student membership for those without formal qualifications.