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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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 athttp://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/publications/mw-conference_papers.html (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.
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.