20 June 2007


Indexing has at least one fan

It seems my blog got noticed just the other day, which is pretty neat. It seems I have at least one fan ... other than myself, of course.

Why does the field of indexing have so few fans outside of the profession itself? I heard many stories from and about thankful authors who swear by the quality of the indexes written by professionals. My favorite is something like this: "Until I looked at that index, I didn't even know I wrote all that!" I'm talking about something more general.

No, we're not firefighters, bursting through burning walls to save people we've never met, but I like to think that we make the world a better place anyway. We're the traffic cops of information, tour guides for books, instructors and librarians, a taut rope in the rough seas of data storms....

If you know anything about indexing -- not indexes, but indexing -- then you know it's not a boring profession. Think about the public perception of lawyers, and how we don't consider that profession boring, and yet the reality of law is lots of books, lots of reading, lots of research. Those "exciting moments" brought to you on the television, along with the anxiety and intrigue of any moral or ethical battles regarding the implementation of law, represent only a small piece of the whole system. There is a lot of boredom in lawyering. No, the part of the law that brings so many students into the law schools (other than the potential for income, perhaps) is the idea that law governs our every-day lives, the sociological analogy to science.

Indexing is the process of analyzing and re-representing information, the lifeblood of everything we do. It's the Matrix; we hold the Da Vinci Code. We are responsible for getting data from one place to another in an efficient format, so that we can actually talk. Whenever you get frustrated by a failure to communicate, remember that an indexer can change that.

Maybe the reason indexing seems so boring is that the word is so inexorably tied to that alphabetized, indented thing you see in the back of books. Despite the applications indexing has for the Web, in search, and with taxonomy, people associate what we do with good old-fashioned paper. And gosh, they've been around, like, forever, so of course they're as boring as dirt -- note that dirt is not boring to some people -- and a whole lot less inspiring of nostalgia. Such a shame.

Maybe we need a movie, the way Top Gun got people signing up for the U.S. Air Force. Here's one. It's called Cross. Jack Hannah, Agency "prep consultant" who can find out anything about anyone, is double-crossed when a routine inside investigation of an agent turns out to have the exact same life Jack has. Part No Way Out and part Blow Up, Cross follows Jack on a dangerous journey into government archives to answer what should have been a simple question: Who is the real Jack Hannah?


I think part of the reason why indexing is seen as boring is because people don't really understand what it is. Whenever people ask me what I do and I reply with "Indexing," inevitably they ask, "What's that?"

"I write indexes for the backs of books."


My sister-in-law refers to my indexing as "typing." That's pretty telling... :)
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