ANZSI Conference Report 2005

By Glenda: First published in Online Currents – 20 (4) May 2005

The renamed Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (previously AusSI, the Australian Society of Indexers) recently held a two-day conference at the delightful Rydges Riverwalk hotel on the Yarra River, in Richmond, Melbourne.

The conference covered the usual wide range of topics, including indexing of sound, journals, books and databases, as well as thesaurus construction and a user’s approach to indexes.  However, for me, the most stimulating and productive parts of the conference were the various meetings, which, while specifically related to indexers, also addressed issues that many societies are now considering.

The conference proceedings will be available in September 2005 for $50.00; send enquiries to

The recent formation of a New Zealand branch of the society has led to a number of changes, the renaming of the society being one of the simplest.  New issues included the name of our ‘umbrella’ committee, previously the ‘National Committee’, now ‘ANZSI Committee’ (as we cover two nations) and the relevance of New Zealand economic conditions to our recommended rate for indexing.

Important changes to the administrative guidelines include broadening the definition of ‘meeting’ to include other methods of communication (e.g. electronic, telephone, and videoconferencing, plus any as yet undreamt of technologies), and the acceptance of proxy votes.  For a smallish organisation with distributed membership, these changes are important.

The most significant issue discussed was our fledgling mentoring scheme.  The Victorian Branch had identified a gap between introductory indexing training and the indexing and business skills necessary for someone wanting to work as a freelance indexer.  To fill this gap they established a mentoring scheme in which those being mentored create an index to a published work not currently indexed, with the aim of selling the index as a standalone item to libraries holding those works.  With this aim in mind, the name ‘Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers Index Series’ was established, and ISBNs and an ISSN obtained.  The person being mentored was guided through the process by the mentor – taking on average four to six hours of the mentor’s time per index.  This session was presented by Max McMaster, a mentor, and Jane Purton, the client, who produced the first published index in this series (which we were able to view).

The ACT Region and New Zealand branches are also planning mentoring schemes, and discussions were held on making the processes consistent throughout the society.

Non-English Indexing
Two Iranian sisters, Masoumeh and Mansoureh Bagheri, from the University of Tehran and Azzahra University, spoke at the conference on the development of thesauri and indexing education in Iran.  I was most interested in the different human aspects of their work.  There were two major historical reasons for an increase in interest in documentation and thesauri in Iran – the first was the Islamic Revolution, and the second the Iran–Iraq war (with information on military matters being particularly important).  Some of their early thesauri were translations of English or French thesauri, but these proved not to be close enough to the needs of the Iranian literature they were indexing.  Later projects included the creation of specifically Iranian thesauri, including those in specialised areas such as Islamic Logic.  Iranian library catalogues include material in Persian (Farsi), English, Arabic and other languages – these are all catalogued in the language of the material itself.  English material is catalogued using Library of Congress Subject Headings, while Persian language material is catalogued using Iranian thesauri.

An increase in the number of documents being published in Iran, and the subsequent growth of information centres, led to the need for more staff trained in indexing and abstracting.  Two important developments were the establishment of the Iranian Documentation Centre (IranDoc) in 1968, and the introduction of information and library science programs in universities.  Some early training was done with assistance from the (former) USSR.  There are now six universities with LIS programs, and some Masters degrees with specialised indexing education.  IranDoc also runs some short courses.  A questionnaire found that people were not satisfied with their training in indexing, and suggestions were made to introduce courses to the Bachelors program and to increase the credit hours in the Masters courses.  In order to be of value, the teaching also needs to be hands-on, and perhaps to include internships.

The keynote speaker, Neil Archbold, a geologist from Deakin University, spoke from the point of view of a user of indexes.  Information access is crucial to his work; he said he has always known of the importance of ‘cultivating librarians’.  Foreign language indexing is also important to him, as his area of specialisation includes brachiopods (fossil shells) and the history of geology.  For research into both of these, he uses a lot of Russian and Chinese materials.  One of the books he praised had a number of specialised subject indexes, and then other indexes leading from entries in one language to entries in the other language.  The names in the Chinese index were ordered by the number of strokes in the Chinese letters (from 2 to 23 strokes).  [An alternative way of sorting Chinese index entries is by the English transliteration, even if the index is only written in Chinese.]

Neil wrote a biography of a Russian scientist, born in 1889 and shot in 1938 for plotting against Stalin.  The scientist became a non-person – he was not referred to, and pages in books that mentioned him were glued together.  With some help, Neil created an almost complete bibliography of the scientist’s works.  When Russian Communism collapsed he published the book, causing much amazement; someone sent him another six references.  He concluded that this sort of work is rarely done.  His talk was also a reminder that, while for a lot of our clients speed and low cost appear to be the priorities, there are also people who rely on the excellence of information retrieval devices to do their research.

A Singaporean, Chung Lee Geok, provided a handout on the Singapore Periodicals Index on CD-ROM, which is produced by the Bibliographic Services Unit, Library Support Services Group of the National Library Board.

The Past
Dianna McClellan became interested in metadata for Indigenous collections when working on a pilot project, which was based on requests from Indigenous community elders to create a cultural database for materials gathered by La Trobe University researchers.  More detail on the project is available at (a paper presented by Ted Chrisfield at the Computing Arts 2004 Conference).  The project considered software that provides access to information by geographical area, along with geospatial and other metadata and cataloguing issues.

Nel Fredericks worked on a project at the State Library of South Australia, which aimed to create a practical tool for use by Indigenous people researching their family histories.  She chose to work on the Point McLeay Aboriginal Mission Records.  The users may be Aboriginal people or Link-Up workers searching on behalf of Aboriginal people.  Issues she considered were the usability of the tool and its consistency with other resources.  For this reason, data was added to an existing database rather than creating a new one.  Information that might be considered sensitive (e.g. annotations such as ‘illegitimate’ or ‘25% Aboriginal blood’) was not transcribed, although it is still accessible on the source microfilm.  Other issues, common to many old archives, include the illegibility of handwriting and the decay of the source material.

These are both points mentioned by Shauna Hicks from the Public Records Office, Victoria.  Unfortunately, I missed her talk, although I have since read her paper.  It focused on the indexing of materials of interest to family history researchers, much of which is done by genealogical groups, as there is no money to pay for professional indexing.

I also missed the talk by John Simkin on ‘AusSI: Aspirations and Achievements Since 1976’ – a timely session, as it rounds off an era, this being our first conference as ANZSI not AusSI.

The Future
Lynn Farkas discussed the evaluation of annual reports, using the CAPABLE criteria (coherence, accessibility, performance, appearance, balance, learning, engaged).  The ‘appearance’ criterion includes effective indexing and cross-referencing within the document, and to other sources as appropriate.  The winners also have their online version evaluated – this is done using the ADEPT criteria (accessible, discoverable, easy to use, presented well and technically sound).  The ‘discoverable’ criterion includes the ease of finding the report from the home page, and its navigability.  Technical soundness includes the use of AGLS compliant metadata.  The National Archives and National Library had good metadata, as would be expected, but some departments had none at all.  PDF files with back-of-book indexes were often the best for finding information, so agencies should consider using linked indexes.

Susan Keogh, from Cambridge University Press, spoke about its XML Indexing process, in which indexers index to a marked location in the text rather than to a page number.  Typesetters then insert XML tags for the creation of index entries.  The advantage is that, if pagination changes (e.g. some sections are deleted) or new editions (e.g. for students) or new formats (e.g. large print) are published, the index does not need to be recreated.  The disadvantages are the extra time taken for indexing, and the risk that, when using embedded indexing, there is a tendency to use the exact phrase structure of the text, rather than rewriting entries, and thinking of alternative access points.  There are also issues in that, if changes are made, they may not be done by the original indexer, thus risking the introduction of inconsistency into the index.

Emeline Haight, a Web librarian from Tasmania, spoke on open access information.  Her printed paper provides an overview of the topic, starting with a timeline and moving on to specific initiatives, including the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the Bethesda Statement, and the Berlin Declaration.  Her suggestions for furthering open access include:

  • spreading the word
  • keeping some copyright rights
  • resisting ‘big-package’ deals, but rather choosing specifically the journals that the library budget allows, and getting the remainder on open access
  • helping institutions create open access repositories
  • indexers learning and using DC metadata and XML notation
  • asking the government to support open access.

Thesauri and Database Indexing
A feature of Australian indexing conferences is that a large proportion of attendees are not Society members – having librarians and other professionals as speakers or in the audience puts our work in context, and brings another perspective to the conference.

I was unable to attend any of the specifically database-related talks due to clashes in programs.  They included Australian Input to the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA) International Database by Eleanor Whelan, AustLit: Australian Literature Gateway by Tessa Wooldridge, Contemporary Indexing in the Field of Education by Margaret Findlay, and EdNA Online by Pru Mitchell and Fiona Mariner.

In a discussion of database indexing of Web-based materials, a number of people said their organisation will only index Web-based materials that are archived by Pandora ( ), to ensure that they will be available for a long time.  Pandora works closely with indexing services and will give priority to materials that they suggest.  The ANU archive is not yet considered a sufficiently reliable environment to be worth indexing.  

Periodicals and Other Specialised Formats
There were a number of talks from people who obviously loved their work.  Cheryl Hamblyn and Delyth Sunley from Dunedin Public Libraries, New Zealand, discussed newspaper indexing for the Otago area.  They showed samples of some early hand-written cards, and topics from the newspaper such as ‘lingerie larceny’ (someone had made a bra fence, and motorists were slowing to look at it).  They have moved from Sears to Library of Congress Subject Headings, and have had to add new terms such as ‘biotechnology’ and ‘terrorism’.  There are some OH&S issues working with the large newspaper volumes, but the use of angle stands helps.

Geraldine Suter discussed the huge project of completing an index to The Argus newspaper for its life from 1846 to 1957, when it was bought by the Herald & Weekly Times and closed overnight.  Indexes exist for the period 1846 to 1859 (created by Jack Feely, State Librarian) and for 1920 to 1949 (created by the Argus office), so the new indexing was done to fill the gaps, maintaining consistency with existing indexing as much as possible.  Support is provided by an ARC infrastructure grant, but the project also relies heavily on volunteer readers, who provide a summary of each item.  These summaries are used by the indexers, and might also save the reader from having to go to the primary source.  The index is Web-based but not linked to the full text, although it may be in future if the newspaper is digitised.  The indexing adds value by providing access to topics that may have been inherent in an article but not specifically named.  One example Geraldine gave was the concept of ‘discrimination’, which may have been written about in the 19th Century but not named as such.  Geraldine mentioned the advent of conceptual indexing, which is an automated method that is meant to pick up such concepts; however, the technology for this is in its infancy.  There is a test site for the index at .

The conference included a session on indexing journal articles with multiple authors – a report on this will be published in the April issue of the ANZSI Newsletter ( ).

I missed the session by Geraldine Beare, from the UK, on indexing Punch magazine and Pathe newsreels, but I believe that it also was a ‘fun’ project – Geraldine started her indexing career by indexing her own collection of Strand magazines.

Clodagh Jones’ talk was on the industrial folk art of apple box labels.  Whenever I think we’ll run out of topics for indexing conferences, I see a title such as this and realise that there are so many types of materials, requiring so many different approaches, that we’ll be kept occupied for a while.

Cherrill Magee and Joann Keogh from SBS Radio spoke on Indexing Sound (English and Other Languages) Within a Multicultural Broadcaster.

Book Indexing

Often the most important sessions for working indexers are the nuts and bolts practical sessions, in which people can ask about contentious decisions and nut out a consensus with colleagues.

Questions included the indexing of the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma and so on.  The general conclusion was that ‘beta lactams’ is likely to be filed under ‘L’ in a chemical or enzymological text, but under ‘b’ in a pharmacological one.

Indexes to biographies often have a lot of undifferentiated locators (not distinguished by different subdivisions), especially for minor characters who keep appearing but then don’t do very much.  The general feeling was that this may be unavoidable, but some people felt they would go out of their way to create subdivisions (even just the year in which something occurred) to split the long list of page numbers.

My own talk was on evidence-based indexing, and made the suggestion that where we do have access to research on indexing we should be using the results in the work we do.  Some suggestions from research are that:

  • we should add more entry terms (e.g. synonyms) to aid users
  • subdivisions should not start with ‘little’ words, such as ‘in’ and ‘and’, where these are not essential
  • indented format should be used unless space or type of index constraints suggest otherwise (indented subdivisions line up under a main entry, while run-on subdivisions are strung together in one long list after a main entry)
  • indexes should be better designed to make access easy, especially by making introductory notes more prominent, and making it easy for people to distinguish between main entries and subdivisions.

I also mentioned the fledgling International Good Practice Web site ( ), which uses a wiki format so that anyone can add content.  

Lynn Farkas, ANZSI President, summed up the conference using four quotes she had heard over the two days.  These were ‘Indexes are critical tools for the organised researcher’ (Neil Archbold), ‘I have a thing about information’ (Emeline Haight), ‘We don’t want to solve an old problem when there are new ones to solve’ (source unknown), and ‘the endless variety of the human mind’ (Leo Tolstoy, via Glenda Browne, when assessing the likelihood of generating consensus among indexers).  Lynn then concluded that we have engaged, and been enlightened and enriched, and that we are now exhausted.  Home to think about it all, and apply it as we work.