A New Index for the Graduate Program Manual of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Alberta
Georgina R. Zaharia Saranchuk
This paper was written for LIS 599 Directed Study, a course offered at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. It was completed under the direction of Dr. Lisa Given, and converted to HTML to fulfill the requirements of LIS 600 Capping Exercise. Any questions or comments can be addressed to Georgina R. Zaharia Saranchuk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back-of-the-book indexes are very important to the quality and readability of a book. The index is much more than the last few pages of the book; in fact, it serves as the guide to the book’s intellectual content and points to its many details of fact and information. Back-of-the-book indexes serve, both, the reader who has to read the book from cover to cover and wishes to relocate specific information from its pages, and the potential reader who is attempting to determine whether the book has any or sufficient detail about a chosen topic to warrant reading all or parts of it. In this way, back-of-the-book indexes are very utilitarian in their construct, without glamour in their appearance and barely noticed unless they are of especially high or low usability. For this positive or negative attention, they may be awarded medals of distinction by professional indexing societies, such as the Society of Indexers’ (SI) annual presentation of the Wheatley Medal for the best book index published in the United Kingdom in the previous three years, or they may be complained about, condemned and criticized for their lack of usability and inability to guide the reader to the desired details of fact and information.
This paper chronicles the writing of a back-of-the-book index for the Graduate Program Manual (Manual) of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR) at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This new index was deemed necessary by FGSR and University's departmental faculty and staff users of the Manual; the “in-house” index included with the Manual was one of brevity and limited detail and was not serving its users well. With the latest updates in the early months of the year 2002, the Manual, at 112 pages of rich and detailed information, had become increasingly complex and ever more difficult for its users to locate specific information to meet the information needs of graduate students, faculty and departmental staff. For these reasons and for the fact that indexing is part of the library and information studies (LIS) field, this project was completed as part of an LIS 599 Directed Study course at the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at the University of Alberta.
This indexing project was done in several stages of discovery about the work of indexing and in two stages of development as the index was written. It will be described in the first person since I found that this project became a complete and whole experience of learning, doing and time of reflection. As with any other academic course, I knew where I had to begin and the route that I would follow to lead me to the completion of this indexing project. I began by reading the literature in the field of indexing; this was read and consulted for guidance and information about indexes and indexing and as a firm foundation on which to build. The literature was reviewed for information about the history of indexes, the formation of professional societies and associations, what indexes are and what are the functions of an index, which characteristics of personality are required for and best suited to indexing, the process of indexing, users of indexes, research about users and their use of indexes and users and the usability of indexes. Further literature was reviewed for information about the practical and technical decisions about the style of the index, standards to follow, proper indexing for the kind of document involved, selection of indexable matter, topics or subjects from the text, construction of headings and subheadings, and the style of page number entries, properly known as “locators,” that would be used.
The new index for the FGSR Manual was written following this review of the literature and with an ongoing consultation of the literature as a tool of theoretical and practical guidance. Throughout this review of the literature, I became very aware of the technical “language” or terminology of indexing and I gathered a list of definitions of indexing terms, included in the Glossary of Terms, to assist me with my understanding of the technical aspects of the work. The list of terms pertinent to my index writing grew as the index developed and my understanding of their significance grew during this time; this awareness of the terminology might be best described as a process from the general to the specific and, in some cases, to the very specific. While certainly not a complete list of indexing terms and, in the process, finding some slight variations for the definitions, I am including those that particularly informed and guided me through this project, and I am including the definitions from resources that “spoke most clearly” to me. It may also be noted that these terms will not appear in strict alphabetical order since I have preferred to define them more suitably in the order in which I thought of them, sought explanation about them, needed to know about them and used them as the key components and considerations of the index and the process of indexing.
The index writing is explained and examples are cited to allow the reader to discern some of what I did throughout the writing of this index. The actual indexing of the Manual had its own particular set of steps and procedures which bear describing in the relative order in which they occurred, and while some of them were repeated and retraced in some ways and at different times, these steps were the framework by which this index was written. The second part of this index writing involved obtaining some feedback about the index and its usability from some of its potential users through some “test runs,” before it was determined that the index was complete and ready for publication. Unlike other “professional” indexers who may not receive any feedback or not even require it, I saw this as an opportunity to continue my learning about the writing of indexes, to improve the quality of my first “professional” index and to ensure that this index would be as highly usable as possible.
This paper concludes with my thoughts about this indexing project, considering from where I started to where I ended with this work and the experience I gained. These conclusions will summarize the very practical and technical realities of this indexing project in relation to the index’s final edition. These conclusions will also speak about the emotional realities of an experience and project as intense as this has been and will offer some thoughts to anyone who might wish to challenge themselves with a project comparable in scope and magnitude to this one.