Review of Index It Right!: Advice from the Experts, Volume 2

Janet Perlman and Enid L. Zafran, editors; Index It Right!: Advice from the Experts, Volume 2, (Information Today on behalf of the American Society for Indexing (ASI) 2010), Paperback, 170 pages, $32 (ASI members), $40 nonmembers, ISBN 9781573873963.

I didn’t immediately conclude that law librarians would profit from reading and using Index It Right! Aren’t print materials in law libraries already indexed? If the materials are electronic, can’t users search them by keyword, eliminating the need for indexes? The following events convinced me that my doubts were ill-founded, and that a hearty recommendation of the book was justified:

  • A recently posted notice on the law-lib list serve — a request for a database indexer for a Canadian law firm
  • My discovery that the American Society for Indexing has a legal division
  • My growing admiration as I turned page after page of this well-written, informative book

Index It Right! Advice from the Experts is the second book in a series. The first book, Volume 1, published in 2005, covered subject areas such as philosophy, theology, biography, horticulture, and art.  The contributors also discussed indexing for encyclopedias, computer manuals, and web sites.

Volume 2, published in 2010, contains four chapters that cover subject areas, which pose unique indexing challenges. Indexers of naval and military publications must accurately list ship and aircraft names. Indexers of technical materials must understand software coding and their clients’ needs. Public policy writings contain legal materials, which must be accurately and logically indexed.

I enjoyed these four chapters because all facets of knowledge fascinate me; I pictured myself grappling with and mastering unfamiliar concepts and terms, and organizing them into a structure that makes the material accessible to people with various levels of knowledge. I also mused about the multidisciplinary nature of the study and practice of law. An indexer of legal materials will be confronted with terms and concepts from a wide variety of knowledge domains, and would benefit from advice on how to deal with them.

Throughout the nine chapters in the book, the contributors present a variety of how-to topics: How to create elegant subheads, how to differentiate locators (page numbers in the index), how to work as a freelance indexer, how to embed indexes in documents created in Microsoft Word and Adobe FrameMaker, and, in the last chapter, how to create and use controlled vocabularies, thesauri, and taxonomies.

When I saw the title of Chapter One, I couldn’t imagine how those modest tools of organization, subheadings, could be called “elegant.” The authors of the chapter convinced me that they could. Elegance is one of the criteria for the H.W. Wilson Award for Excellence in Indexing. The award defines elegance as possessing charm, visual appeal, simplicity, and grace. The Expert Tip on page 2 states: “Elegance manifests itself in the balance of art and science in an index.” That statement caught my interest and drew me forward through the book. I had to find out how this delicate balance could be achieved.

Expert Tips are statements in text boxes scattered throughout the book. Like the well-crafted headings and “elegant” subheads, they highlight important concepts. In conjunction with the book’s index, which demonstrates the contributors’ principles and practical advice, they help readers find the information they need. At the end of several chapters, the contributors provide endnotes and lists of references, including wikis, blogs, discussion groups, and suggestions for further reading on the topic of indexing.

Chapter Nine, the culminating chapter of the book, describes how controlled vocabularies are created, and how they are used in thesauri and taxonomies in printed and electronic materials. The Expert Tip under the subheading Arrangement of the Term Hierarchy on page 150 states: “There is more than one correct way to arrange a hierarchy, so consider who your primary users are and what their perspective is.”

The contributors to Index It Right!, three of whom are winners of the H.W. Wilson Award for Excellence in Indexing, make concern for the user a common theme. The book reflects this concern, making it an important addition to a law librarian’s library.

Reviewed by Judy Esrig, J.D., M.L.S.

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