Probably all of us have a certain idea of indexing as a concept. It is one of those terms widely familiar but kind of hard to define and explain. Order, classification, table of contents, references, items, pages, the essence of all the ideas transmitted by the book, etc. These are all the words that cross our minds while talking about an index of a book. Nevertheless, book indexing is a pretty complicated process that can’t be easily described in a few words. To pay tribute to all the hard-working, barely sleeping indexers eager to build bridges between the reader and the book, that can save the reader many hours of work, let’s explain what we, indexers, do as information professionals, how we do it and why.

Book Index: Magical shortcut that saves a lot of time

The term itself derives from the Latin “indicare”, meaning to point or indicate. The meaning of the word hasn’t changed compared to the one embedded in the Latin root. An index indicates, points out, guides us towards certain information. Not every term from a book must become a part of the index. The professional indexer, who knows his job, should be able to make a difference between important references and those which are trivial to a certain topic. Will the reader learn anything by turning to that particular page? If the answer is no, then this reference will probably be left out. The basic concept behind indexing is constant, but its formats, methods and techniques must evolve to keep up with the information revolution.

It is Indexed, Therefore It is

The answer to whether or not a given book should be bought is hidden in the book’s index. It’s not just important to know that the book deals with the topic you’re interested in. It’s important to get to know its spirit, how the subject is treated. Some of you might think that indexes are becoming obsolete and that they are just reserved for print books. You might say that searchable ebooks don’t need them. On the contrary! Even though you can type in the term you are looking for in the search box, you could miss some important information, because this term may appear under different synonyms, for example. An index doesn’t just guide you through the text, it also shows you how different parts of the text are correlated. However, indexes are indeed closely related to print books. Since the late Middle Age and Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type press, besides multiple copies of one single book, indexes and some other bibliographical tools started to be printed too. This fact illustrates that ever since the dawn of civilization, indexing has remained the main tool for storing and organizing information. If it’s to be easily accessible, the information must be organized in a logical way.

The Book Index is Not Part of the Past. It’s Part of the Future

Due to the evolution of global technology, the methods and speed we use to share information has changed. Similarly, how we process and interpret this information has evolved too. We can all agree that information is not the same as knowledge. However, information is an indispensable tool for understanding something. We are living in a world of digitalized information, where instant access is becoming a norm. The growth of digital information implies an increase in the volume and complexity of available data. That is why, in the digital era that we live in, it is more necessary than ever to have competitive experts who can simplify ample information systems. In other words, the deluge of information we receive is drowning us. It is an indexer’s task to build an ark that will take us to the horizons of knowledge for which we have been searching.

Book Indexing in Not That Easy

Indexes are simple roadmaps to information. Their primary purpose is to create efficient access to information. We should not forget that at the same time, with the exponential growth of available sources and information, procedures of indexing have become more sophisticated too. Classification and indexing are two different notions. However, they do overlap in practice. Indexing includes classification and, therefore, enumeration of information units. At the same time, it clarifies them. Indexing expresses, in abbreviated form, what the content is all about, and where this information is stored. It is more than merely extracting all the notions from a text and writing the page numbers where we can find these notions. It must also show how the ideas the notions represent interact. The ideal indexer is a mind reader, having the ability to estimate what the reader will need. It is hard work requiring analytical skills, a variety of backgrounds and a vast knowledge base.

Why Index a Book?

An index should not be seen as a short and unnecessary section of the book. It is, in fact, an integral and vital part of the book. A book’s index represents a complete overview of the information contained in a given text, thus enabling the maximum efficiency for locating information. Keep in mind that not every index is a mere index. A useful index requires a complete, systematic, and thorough analysis. An index is a product of an indexer’s techniques and analytical skills. It should, therefore, help readers decide whether this book and the information contained within it, are useful for their purposes or not. All in all, building a quality index for a book is a good investment for authors and publishers, as it can help boost sales of their new publications.

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