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The Art of the Index, or One Day My Online Book Will Come (with apologies to the alleged prince)

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There isn’t a legal or other researcher who hasn’t gnashed teeth over the quality of indexes, print and online. I think the only scholars who don’t complain about their own discipline’s indexes are theologians (but then they have access to higher indexing powers than we mere mortals do :-).

Professional indexers work really hard, but need to earn a living and there isn’t a whole lot of R&D money out there to support them while they play at indexing, which is the only way we’ll get some real creativity going. As long as publishers (print and online) give short shrift to the quality of their indexes, not much is going to change.

Those of us who use Westlaw and Lexis are aware how dated these databases look and function and how these phenomenal data repositories are in need of some brave new Indexing Models. A librarian friend sent me this example of an unusual and effective archive/index – so incredibly simple too as many good indexes are, e.g. here and here (and even Edward Tufte might like it). We really should be at the beginning of a Renaissance of Indexing. I should live so long – sigh.

Of course, it’s then only a small step from an excellent online index to an online book or the holy grail of online creations, the digital treatise or statutory compilation that won’t make you wonder if the Zeros and Ones of the programming world really know just how beautiful and practical a printed book is.

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