LOCATOR! LOCATOR! LOCATOR! The Indexing Society of Canada’s Annual Conference

by Barbara Kamienski

Published at 2014-06-25

Back in 1990, Craig Brown, columnist for the Times Saturday Review, wrote, “When I tell people that I am working on an index for a book, they tend to hang their heads in sorrow.” Reaction to the news that I was planning to attend this year’s two-day indexing conference in early June was similar. What, my friends wondered, could possibly be the attraction of an event with the theme Changing Pages: Indexing for Today and Tomorrow?
Well, for starters, there were 60 smart and quirky people from all corners of the earth—not only Canada but also the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, and Australia—exchanging knowledge and tips about how best to accomplish the task of creating indexes of “simple elegance and usable complexity” (to quote Margie Towery, who wrote the index to the last two editions of the Chicago Manual of Style).
In the first session, the young woman sitting next to me confessed that she had so far written only one index; a few seats away sat Hazel Bell, one of the world’s foremost authorities on indexing, author of over 800 indexes and two-time winner of the Wheatley Award. Yet collegiality reigned supreme. We talked indexes during the sessions, and kids, hobbies, travelling—and indexing—during the breaks.
Keeping Up with Technology
The massive changes that technology has brought to publishing have of course made themselves felt in the indexing world, as reflected in both the conference theme and the titles of two of the sessions: Whither the E-Book Index? and The EPUB3 Indexes 1.0 Specification: Approved—Now What?
In the era of e-books and e-readers, page numbers have gone the way of the dodo bird; no longer is an index by definition a section at the back of a print book, with page numbers as locators. Indexers, who have for decades been using software that helps with the mechanics and formatting of their indexes, now need to acquire completely new skill sets if they hope to keep up with the times.
That said, the principles and challenges of indexing remain the same. As Margie Towery put it in her session, Ten Principles for Creating Better Indexes, “The index must represent all the material within a text, including front and back matter when appropriate, in a balanced manner. Plus, indexers must consider the many ways a user might ‘name’ and search for something. And then the index must also be concise ...”
Specialized Topics
A number of sessions covered specialized topics: health and science terminology, special considerations in cookbook indexing, the National Occupation Classification (NOC), and indexing Ontario’s Hansard (described as a “moving target”).  These were eye-openers for those of us who work on more generalized texts.
The final session, a realistic but lighthearted take on author-indexer relations, rounded off the conference nicely. And a bonus: post-conference sessions on the indexing software Cindex and Adobe’s  InDesign.
Until Next Year
Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play. A pre-conference evening on Toronto Island, a banquet (with a delightful keynote address by Hazel Bell on The Personality of the Indexer*), and an informal garden party gave us ample opportunity to kick up our indexing heels—and made us all want to come back again next year.
 *In a nutshell: You can’t pin it down.