02 April 2006


Standards in the indexing community

The American Society of Indexers has been deluged with opinions regarding its venture into credentialing individual indexers. Leaving aside all legitimate concerns about the implementation of credentials, there are still many strongly voiced opinions about whether credentialing is a good idea in the first place.

One thing about indexing certification and index standards building that I keep getting stuck on is the question of who they're really for. There are indexers who believe credentialing will impact all indexers in a negative way, or just ASI members. There are many who suspect new indexers will benefit, and that everyone else will get hurt.

But I don't believe the truest benefits to standards building are about the individual indexer. There will be effects, and certainly those effects will be different for different people, but the whole reason standards are created are to improve the industry as a whole. At least, that's how I understand it.

There is a standard for indexing already out there. It's the ISO 999 standard. Does it benefit you? If you were indexing when it was updated in 1996, did you feel any repercussions in your business? Gosh, it sounds as if I'm joking.

Recently I learned that Massachusetts now requires carbon monoxide detectors on every floor. That means I need to install two more in the house. If I don't install them, I won't have a problem until I attempt to sell the house. And truthfully, I'm kind of annoyed that safety regulations are being pushed onto me -- the vehicle seat belt law, the bicycle helmet law, and now this. I'm not saying that seat belts and helmets are stupid things, but I don't like feeling forced into wearing them.

ASI is attempting to create a standard -- certainly one that is harder to define than "wearing a seat belt or not," I'll freely admit -- and so yes, it is a bit disconcerting to be on the receiving end. I'm doing just fine without my carbon monoxide detectors, and I'll do just fine without professional credentialing.

But ask yourself if you believe in the ideal here. Do you believe that standards *should* exist? You don't have to.

I do.

There are many industries that survive very well without some kind of license, certificate, or degree, and some might think that indexing is one of them. But no matter how it affects me personally, I really believe indexers should be a part of a larger entity, something more important than a simple networking community. Do we -- and I mean ALL of us who write indexes -- have anything in common? Do we have anything to fight for as a group (other than higher rates)? Nah. As an industry, we really don't stand for anything without a standard. We're just a bunch of word inventors -- tinkerers -- working alone in our attics.

Most days, I'm fine standing for nothing. I like my income, I like most of my clients and projects, and I absolutely love being able to work at home and raise a daughter who stops to smell the flowers. Some people like Sudoku and crossword puzzles; I like indexing and teaching.

Other days, I feel like someone bailing out a rowboat with a hole in it, with indexes as buckets. I am frustrated by a complete lack of growth in the industry, by repeating myself to every new production editor I meet, by fighting for the right to use page ranges or decent indexing software, and again and again by having to justify my very reasonable rates.

The deeper meaning that can come from credentialing also comes from other things: professional development, education, and research -- including all those great index usability research ideas. Credentialing isn't the only pursuit of this association, nor would it truly succeed in isolation. But I need to be a part of an association that advocates not just for its individual members, but for the meaning of the industry itself.

Credentialing can be part of the solution.

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