Caroline Diepeveen—Team indexing: The way forward? (ISC conference 2013)

Caroline Diepeveen led a small team that indexed the five-volume Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World (EJIW), published by Brill. Her efforts, along with those of her co-indexers, Pierke Bosschieter and Jacqueline Belder, won the team the Society of Indexers’ Wheatley Medal in 2011. Most gratifying for Diepeveen was the jury’s remark that they couldn’t tell that this index had been composed as a team.

Indexers are used to working in isolation, Diepeveen said, and some seem averse to the idea of working in a team. But her own experience with EJIW was positive, and in a small survey she conducted about team indexing, with eleven indexers responding, she found that 73% had had good experiences, while 27% said that their experience was okay; nobody had found team indexing particularly negative. The respondents had mostly worked in groups of two or three and used such strategies as constant discussion and a controlled vocabulary to achieve consistency in their work. Many teams had one main indexer who was responsible for putting the team together and ensuring the quality of the final product.

In Diepeveen’s case, team indexing became a necessity because of EJIW‘s project deadlines. She had initially signed on as the encyclopedia’s sole indexer. In theory, the encyclopedia would be built one article at a time; the editors expected a steady flow of articles from the authors, and Diepeveen could index at her leisure. In reality, the bulk of the articles came at the end, and the options for the publisher were to extend the deadline or to bring in more indexers.

Fortunately, the encyclopedia itself was compiled using a sophisticated content management system (CMS) with a fine-tuned workflow. Team members were allowed access to only the parts of the CMS that they needed; authors from all over the world contributed articles directly into the CMS, which were then edited by a team of editors and finally released for indexing. With the CMS, articles could easily be assigned to one indexer or then reassigned as needed; there was no need to mail files around. (Brill had attempted to develop a software module that allowed embedded indexing directly in the CMS, but the first version of the indexing module didn’t allow basic indexing features, such as selecting a range, and so was deemed unacceptable. In the end, the index was not fully embedded and instead was compiled using anchors in the text as locators.)

Serving as team captain, Diepeveen not only put together the indexing team but also oversaw her team’s work. She had already done some of the indexing before she brought on the other indexers, so the other team members could use her work as a reference. Helpfully, the articles in the CMS showed all indexed terms highlighted in green, and Diepeveen could easily see whether her teammates were over- or under-indexing and provide feedback as needed. She emphasized the importance of regularly communicating with team members to build trust and a strong working relationship. Geographically separated team members may not be able to meet in person, but teleconferencing and web conferencing go a long way in clarifying roles and tasks, not to mention allowing team members a chance to get to know one another.

To keep the process running smoothly, the team had to lay some groundwork:

  • Diepeveen did a thorough edit of the index near the start of the project so that all team members would have a basic structure to work towards.
  • The team disallowed double postings; cross-references could be converted to double postings at the very end if needed.
  • The team stipulated that all entries must have a subheading. When you see only one part of a publication, you don’t know how much weight or detail is given to a particular subject in another part of the publication. Again, unnecessary subheadings could be edited out at the very end if needed.

Most importantly, Diepeveen said, the team “kept asking questions. EJIW worked almost like peer review on the go. We asked each other, ‘Why did you decide to do things this way?’ We kept each other sharp by asking questions. That improved the quality of the index.”

As larger and larger electronic publications become the norm, Diepeveen said, team index will probably become more common. Emerging technological tools may help with the logistics, but the most important aspect of team indexing, she reiterated, was the team itself. It is critical to invest in trust, not only at the beginning of the project but also regularly throughout.

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