INDEXING BOOKS by Nancy C. Mulvany;
University of Chicago Press,
1994. pp xiii + 320; ISBN 0 226 55014 1 £23.95 / $29.95
Misleadingly simple a title, this one: We have here no brisk "how
to do it" manual. Indeed, its author, a professional indexer
who teaches indexing (at the University of California Extension
in Berkeley), opens with caveats: "I do not believe that indexing
can be taught ... Indexing books is a form of writing ... a mixture
of art and craft, judgment and selection ... Indexing skills can
be nurtured and rules can be learned, but the indexer's ability
to thoroughly digest the intentions of the author and anticipate
the needs of the readers, thereby producing a knowledge structure
that is sensible and useful, involves the application of abilities
and skills that are inherent in some individuals and not in others."
Wannabee indexers would nevertheless do well to start here, receiving
good, basic guidance from "Getting Started" onwards. The
book production process, relationships between the various parties
involved, the skills needed by indexers, structure and arrangement
of entries, typography for indexes, computer programs -- all are
covered. Mulvany defines an index as "a structured sequence
-resulting from a thorough and complete analysis of text - of synthesized
access points to all the information contained in the text ... a
network of interrelationships ultimately an interface between the
author and the reader".
All kinds of LOGOS readers can profitably read this book. Publishers
can learn from it how to draw up clear and professional contracts
for indexing, how to brief the indexer, what the style guide should
cover and of proper costs and copyright for indexes. Authors can
learn how to plan ahead for the index, how to find an indexer, how
to help or antagonize him or her, how to review and edit the index.
Editors can learn how to assess indexes and to salvage the least
worst calamities. Information technologists can study details of
electronic line numbering, codes for subentry levels, formatting
indention levels, embedded indexing tools, user interface design
and appendices dealing with ASCII tables and generic coding for
special characters. And distributors should note her comments on
the effects on potential buyers of a bad index.
As for adept indexers, they can relish the detailed consideration
of extreme niceties and complexities of indexing, such as intellectual
versus algorithmic analysis of text; reference locator formats;
listing much-married women, or names of other nationalities; transliteration;
multi-author and multi-volume works; spelling out 80486 CPU for
alphabetization; KWIC, KWAC and KWOC listings; tracing a name occurring
only in a note reference back to its relevant text passage. There
is speculation, too: should indexers scrupulously follow rules of
practice not likely to be known to users? How intense should cross-referencing
become? "The index should not be a vehicle for the indexer
to demonstrate prowess in tracking down the genealogical roots of
every individual mentioned in text," Mulvany admonishes.
But, as she emphasizes, indexing is an art, no mere set of precepts
to be correctly followed: there is bound to be disagreement among
concerned practitioners. My own chief dispute with Mulvany is where
she dismissively rules: "There is one, and only one, reason
to use a run-in format for an index: that is to save space ... it
should be considered only when there definitely is not enough room
for indented index." I would contrariwise declare: "Indented
subheadings entail a staccato, disjointed effect and should be used
only for subheadings using expected, standardized terminology, alphabetically
arranged, with the keyword to the fore" (these things not usually
true of biographical, historical or general humanities indexing).
Oh, yes, we indexers too have our fervent disputes as to best practice.
And as for Mulvany's dogmatic condemnation of strings of more than
five undifferentiated reference locators and suggestion that the
main topic of a book need not have its own index entry ... no, this
is not the place.
Who could dispute that this is an author eminently qualified to
index her own book? But instead, for reasons she cogently adduces,
including exhaustion and over-familiarity with her text, she delegated
this work. No doubt she followed her own precepts regarding author-indexer
collaboration. She thus gained her book an excellent index, boasted
at its head as "Written by Carolyn McGovern",
and expatiated in a footnote on its own first page (which is itself
indexed) as "alphabetized letter-by-letter. Leading function
words in subentries are not alphabetized. The page-number compression
style follows that in The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed, section
8.69. The index was prepared with the Macrex Indexing Program. Using
the formula on page sixty-four of this book, this is a 7% index.
There are 2,062 entries, averaging seven entries per page."
The virtues and excitement of indexing (yes!) come through loud
and clear. 'The phrase automatic indexing is an oxymoron,"
Mulvany insists, and demonstrates. "The index is molded and
remolded through the first 'sweep' through the text ... As the indexer
adds new entries, old entries are constantly being manipulated.
A biological metaphor for this process would not be far off the
mark. New cells grow and old cells divide; synergy is at work that
results in a functioning organism in which renegade or mutant aberrations
have been identified and eliminated. Index writing integrates substantive
editing into the intitial creative writing process. This index goes
beyond the words in a text. It provides a gateway to ideas and information
... Master the art of book indexing, and you will experience the
magic of sharing knowledge."
That's indexing talk, that is.
-- Review by Hazel K. Bell in LOGOS 6/4 1995