ISC Conference 2012, Day 2—The re-indexing dilemma

Max McMaster, an award-winning indexer and representative of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI), spoke at the ISC conference about reindexing. For a new edition of a book, a subsequent annual report, or a bilingual document, do you adapt was has already been done, or do you index from scratch? Further, are there ethical issues in reusing an existing index?

In Australia, trade publishers will often buy foreign rights and revise a book for the Australian market. In many cases, this means that although the content of the two editions is similar, terminology can vary substantially. Moreover, North American indexers tend to produce lengthier indexes than Australians are used to. When re-indexing for the Australian edition, the index may end up being 30% shorter.

If a new edition of an existing book is just a repagination, it’s absolutely most efficient to reuse the index headings. (McMaster adds 1000 to all the old page numbers to keep track of what he’s changed and what he hasn’t.) If changes to a new edition are minimal and you created the first index, reusing the existing index, with necessary revisions, may be easiest. If changes are substantial, however, it’s much more efficient to start from scratch. McMaster is emphatic in dispelling the myth, however, that re-indexing, in whatever form, is easier than creating an index for a new work.

If you didn’t create the first index and want to re-index a book, it’s still useful to see the existing index. The previous indexer may have found a way to solve a problem that will save you a lot of time or you may spot weaknesses that you should avoid.

In Australia, government annual reports are all required to have an index, so this is a boon for indexers in that country. Since the design and the components of an annual report rarely change from year to year, re-indexing is a snap. Basically, once you land a contract to do one annual report, you’ve got it for life. (McMaster has co-authored a guide for non-indexers on how to index annual reports.)

For bilingual documents, you can’t reuse pagination, since the structure and length of the two languages will be different. One possibility is translated embedded indexing. However, Heather Ebbs pointed out that translating an index doesn’t really work, since there are cultural and contextual differences.

As for ethical issues, McMaster once had a publisher reuse his index for a book that he did for Australia that was then repackaged, with a different title, in New Zealand. In Australia, because an indexer is under contract, he or she doesn’t retain copyright of the work; however, McMaster would have appreciated being notified at the very least that his index would be reused (and a bit of additional compensation wouldn’t have hurt, either). Mary Newberry said that in Canada, copyright of the index does belong to the indexer.

McMaster’s presentation brought up the issue of credit; in one of his anecdotes he mentioned that his name was on a book’s copyright page, which led me to ask him whether crediting an indexer is standard practice in Australia. He says that an indexer is credited only maybe 5% of the time. Christine Jacobs had an interesting approach to the credit issue: she invoices for a credit line (and, incidentally, for a copy of the finished book). She asks for a credit on the copyright page, in the acknowledgements, or in the index itself, and lists this as a separate line item on her invoice. In cases where she doesn’t approve of the changes an editor, author, or publisher has made to the index, she simply removes that item, and her name doesn’t appear.

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