The E-Reader Effect
Searching vs indexing
An index is a consciously designed method of finding mentions of subjects, persons, or ideas. A Google search return is merely a software-derived order based on rankings of key words, embedded words, and other data designed to return the 'mostest.'
Google is an incredible tool but it is comparing apples to a bushel of acorns to think a Google search is anything but an easily manipulated return of key phrases.
Indexers, like bibliographers, are unsung heroes of enlightenment and progress. Overworked and poorly paid they delight in obsessively creating something that even a child can use and profit by.
Value of an Index
The Good Enough Principle
Why Hire an indexer?
"Sitting down and indexing a book is—in our experience—the most painful, horrible, mind-numbing activity you could ever wish on your worst enemy. And yet, where this is the kind of task that a computer should be great at, it’s actually impossible for a computer to do a good job of indexing a book by itself. A good index requires careful thought, an understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to keep the whole project in your head at all times. In short, it requires comprehension—a quality computer software, at this early stage of its evolution, lacks. Until recently, it also required a large stack of note cards, highlighter pens, Post-It notes, and serious medication."
Lack of an Index?
Scholarly use of index can really be of genuine service to authors and publishers. Scholars cite previous works. It may be unfair, but books most easily researched (those with indexes) have an edge on being cited. The scholars certainly should have thoughtfully read their source books, but ease in locating remembered tidbits likely means the indexed book will have a longer life in the world of letters than an unindexed book.
Books that are cited and included in bibliographies and/or reference lists may well be purchased by readers of the works citing the original books.
Indexes are significant value-added book elements. I love footnotes; I love timelines; I love maps. I need indexes.
On the wider subject of automation in general, there is also my page"Human or computer produced indexes?" on the Society of Indexers site at <http://www.indexers.org.uk/index.php?id=463> <http://tinyurl.com/5fruxa>
I use the author's words whenever possible, but often the only way to create a useful subheading is to mentally digest a passage of text and extract a theme that the author has not stated explicitly. Sometimes it's as simple as a paragraph about the prevalence of a disease that does not use the word "prevalence."
When I was doing ebooks back in the day, these problems hadn't been solved yet. I worry sometimes that if they remain unsolved, the noble art of book indexing will wither and die—and the search engine, as I hope you now understand, is not an entire replacement.
One of the problems we are up against of course is that authors and publishers are beguiled by suggestions that nowadays the whole thing is automatic, and just needs the author to press the right key in Word to get a perfect index.
Harold MacMillan, prime minister, wrote a warm welcome to the Society of Indexers in Great Britain, including several quotes about indexing. The Harold McMillan piece is at http://www.theindexer.org/files/01-1/01-1_003.pdf.
Oula Jones' was Bernard Levin's indexer. His correspondence with her is quite funny at
Opinion. What do indexers "do"?
The best indexes "draw" common elements from throughout a work into common headings. This means selecting the most common synonym or (rarely, but logically) introducing the relevant synonym. Drawing common elements together is typically a significant aspect in definitions of indexes. It's one of the rationales for cross-referencing.
How about "produce"? ("I produce indexes.") Any different from "create"? Hmm. Somebody said "provide" -- well, an agent does that. The publisher does that, for the reader.Produce, construct, create. Any subtle differences? I guess what we're trying to do is reduce the indexing process to only one verb -- and there isn't one. It's part reading, it's part analysis, it's part writing, it's part just typing, it's part creative editing, it's part agonizing, it's part swearing, it's part . . .
One does not "write", "compile", etc an index for a text; one simply, and irreducibly, "indexes" the text.This sounds like it might be right, explaining our difficulty in finding any fully satisfactory verb to go with "index" as a noun.
When speaking otherwise, I say that the index is "composed"; as an act of "composition". IMO this catches the sense of "compilation", and relates well with the usage "writing"; while also containing a (broad) hint of "creative" input. I grant this but like the other options it falls short. Thinking of "composing", as in composing music, I imagine creating references primarily to aspects of one's own imagination as opposed to aspects of an objective reality like text.
On the other hand, indexing is not merely compiling, as in gathering together a known set of components -- one must first discern what's to be gathered and then develop the index accordingly -- and there's another possible verb: develop -- to develop an index. Moreover, I can see myself as an index developer, but still, this term is too broad to be fully satisfactory, so it too falls short.
. . . I most often use "write"; Indexing may not qualify as "creative writing" but there are lots of kinds of writing and indexing is one of them. Since "writing" works for mathematicians why not for indexers? Next to irreducible "indexing" of course. Indeed, I always say, "I index books", and then add, "I write indexes for books" or "I write indexes that appear in the back of books". Michael Brackney
Without digression upon postmodern problematics
of "ecriture", I will venture a suggestion that
that the term "to index" denotes a relatively
irreducible human activity, like running, thinking,
eating, etc, and should be considered as primarily
a verb. A denominative form, when required, would
then be derived as "indexing"; thus, as an indexer
I provide "indexing for" an assigned text; not an
(and certainly not "the") "index". On this view,
one does not "write", "compile", etc an index for
a text; one simply, and irreducibly, "indexes" the
text. When speaking otherwise, I say that the index
is "composed"; as an act of "composition". IMO this
catches the sense of "compilation", and relates well
with the usage "writing"; while also containing a
(broad) hint of "creative" input. I think this is
an important string, as many types of "indexing"
are being conflated these days, while there is
as well an overall trend toward an understanding
of indexing as reducible to some form of programmable
function; ie, as some combination of purely mechanical
activities, such as sorting, searching, alphabetizing,
etc.! Often when I tell otherwise literate persons,
who however are unfamiliar with professional indexing,
that I am an indexer, they reply: "I thought that was
all done by computer now."
That said, I should say that, with Ken and Julie, I
often use "write"; but, as a mathematician, I also say
(in a manner understood in the mathematical community)
that I am "writing" mathematics, though I am pretty
sure that the novelists I know would not readily agree
that what I am then doing is what they do.
I've been dipping into an intro guide to Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault in
spare moments, partly because I've always been curious about their stuff,
which struck me as flaky (like it does many people), and partly because I've
been trying to learn what the various disciplines concerned with language,
meaning, and texts have to say, out of interest in the theory side of
Index terms look like, and often are, textual terms, but they stand for topics rather than things, and in and among themselves they reflect significance and context of the communication embodied in the text+index, and the purposes of the communicants (the author, the reader, and the indexer), not the content of the communication itself. After all, the Basic Thing That We All Know is that the index _displays_ what the text is "about" without _explaining_ it.
When you stop to think about it, that's weird and not at all intuitive (and it's an interesting thing that it's possible at all). It's the first thing to grasp or you won't go much past the starting gate. I'm struck by how there are competent, even fine, editors who just don't "get" indexing. It seems to me that although editing and indexing both require a lot of (technical) understanding of and skill in using language, editing is still largely an extension of the naive, direct mode of reading. OTOH, indexing involves conscious, deliberate examination of the implicit and situational aspects of the text, which a naive reader pretty much takes for granted, and it traffics in those indirect elements, not the content itself.
That's a pretty postmodern set of priorities. From the book:
That's about as good a description of the mental image of a text that an indexer constructs as any I've seen. The flaky thing about Derrida seems to be that he takes it a bit too far. Apparently he sees the internal workings of the text as no different in kind from the relationship between the text and its index:
"Husserl made an important distinction in _The Logical Investigations_ between expression and indication. The expression, linked to the intention of the speaker, is what we might call the pure meaning of the sign, and as such is distinguished from indication, which has a pointing function and could occur without any intentional meaning. Now, Derrida has argued that pure expression will always involve an indicative element. Signs cannot refer to something totally other than themselves. There is no signified which is independent of the signifier. There is no realm of meaning which can be isolated from the marks which are used to point to it."
We'd probably all agree that this is taking the Basic Thing too seriously, but to be fair it's not totally crazy. Again, it _is_ weird that there's a literary form at all (BoB indexes) that's characterized by the Basic Thing; and if Derrida hasn't shown it, maybe it's still right that there is no real difference in kind, only one of degree, between indexes and other literary forms.
I don't think so, but in any case we indexers fortunately don't have to go there to do what we do. The point is that the picture of language at issue is relevant for us in some ways, IMO, even if taking it as a paradigm is misguided.
Here's an ironic thought: The postmodern view of language, in a reversal of the usual priority, privileges the index over the text, and eliminates the difference between the "simple" pointing function of the index and the"substantive" denoting function of the text. Yet, as observed, deconstructive analyses based on that identification are often themselves unindexable. So the identification of meaning with indexicality is either unintelligible or reestablishes the dichotomy it purports to dissolve. How's that for a deconstruction of deconstruction, which it would take an indexer to devise? Or is it all just solipsism? Should anyone even CARE? ;-D
With appreciation to Neil Ching <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[The book is Madan Sarup's "An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism."]