Index. by Anonymous

Copyright © 2000 by Dan Connolly

Is an index so anonymous that it should remain uncredited? Is it so pedestrian, so sterile, that there is no individuality inherent in its creation? Is the writer of an index merely a scrivener, a simple data entry clerk? I would suggest otherwise.

Let us approach the problem first from this angle. Does the foreword or preface of a book get credited if its author is different from the author of the book in which it appears? Yes, it does. The writers of those sections of a book are so noted right on the pages where they write. "Foreword. by So-and-so." In fact, it is often a selling point of the book itself, especially if the writer is famous or particularly eminent in his or her field. For instance, in In the Land of White Death (Random House, Modern Library, 2000), the preface and the introduction are credited to the two people who wrote them, and on the cover of t he book to boot, in crisp, clear typeface. They are more famous (Jon Krakauer and David Roberts) than the author of the book itself (Valerian Albanov). In fact, they made the effort to bring this book to the attention of modern American readers after many years of obscurity. The book was originally published in Russian in 1917, then in French in 1928, under the title Au pays de la mort blanche.

Now, in looking for the index of this book, I find that it has one. This is a good thing, but reg retfully, it is a surprising thing as well. It has seemed to be the usual custom, when dredging up long lost manuscripts from times past, or republishing books from an earlier era, to leave off the index entirely. If it is left off, we assume that the ori ginal didn't contain one. But that doesn't excuse not including one in this, a more enlightened information-hungry age. As I've said though, the index is there, in all its glory. And it is well received by this reader. First, there is always the issue of the foreign names of Albanov's companions, and the other explorers that he mentions as having preceded him in the region. There are the place names as well that need constant referencing and reminding.

The index itself is a good one. The author of it (shall we call her Anonymous?) has chosen a particular style in presenting her entries. She has constructed a compressed narrative of the book, and the index makes good reading. Take the entries for "Cape Flora" as an example. Cape Flora was the objective of Albanov and his companions when they left the ice-bound Saint Anna and struck out across the arctic ice cap. Read some of the evocative entries under Cape Flora: "Albanov's companions fail to reach;" "Albanov's and Konrad's preparations to winter over on;" "letters in mailbox on;" "rescue of Albanov and Konrad from;" and "and Southward drift of Albanov expedition." While indexers can quibble about the use of antecedent prepositional phrasing, wordiness, and the lack of keyword-centric subheading choices, there is no question that the index is true to its text, and that it captures both the mood and events of it. Read closely, it betrays the ending of the book, and the fate of all of its characters. For instance, under "Death" we find this cross-reference: "See also specific person." Sure enough, the dead and missing are duly noted.

I think the concept of "index writing" deserves some discus sion here. For a moment, let us look over the shoulder of an indexer working diligently on a text. She is reading a passage and comes across what she thinks might be useful and relevant information. At this point, she might turn to her dedicated indexing s oftware program, and make a new "entry" in her ever-growing index. How does she do this? She can't simply re-type the sentence (or paragraph) and put the page number in. No, she must analyze the information that she is referencing, and determine the exact and precise wording to most rapidly and usefully point the user to it. She must consider the author's specific language, the possible synonymous terms for that language, and the perspective of the user. She must look at what topic is being discu s sed, but perhaps not specifically named, in the text. She must think of what other index entries this one relates to and create connections to them (cross-references). She must be concise and accurate, or the reader will be lost. This suddenly seems more d aunting than it did a little while ago. It is why indexing is also a form of writing. It is a creative process. No two humans will produce the same index. Each will bring his or her own perspective, knowledge, and experience to the task. Nancy Mulvany, a f reelance indexer who has done extensive research in this area, asserts, "It is my opinion that authored subject indexes satisfy the requirements for selection, arrangement, originality, creativity and authorship regarding copyright. An authored subje c t index is not simply an alphabetical list of uncopyrightable preexisting material (facts). Instead, such an index results from analysis and synthesis of text, selection of entries based upon the indexer's judgment, and arrangement of entries in a consist ent and sensible order." There is currently no direct case law on book indexes as we know them.

Back to our index now. Although we can read and appreciate it, we don't know anything about it. Who wrote the index? Was it original to the first, Russian edition of the book? The French edition? Is it a new addition to the material?

We know many things about other parts of the book, thanks to a two-page acknowledgement written by Krakauer and Roberts, and placed at the end of the text (ju st in front of the uncredited index). William Barr is acknowledged for the use of material "from his largely unpublished English translation of In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov." This material includes the splendid maps on which the publishers based their own, as well as access to his textual translation. The translators are Alison Anderson and Linda Dubosson (from the Russian). Christian de Marliave was "an invaluable consultant." Lee Boudreaux at Random House is c o mmended for her insight in recognizing that the work was of tremendous value and potential impact. Others at Random House singled out for unspecified praise and acknowledgement include Ann Godoff, David Evershoff, and Brian McLendon. Dennis Ambrose superv i sed the editorial production. Krakauer and Roberts also thank three editors at National Geographic Adventure for producing "a handsome first-serial excerpt." They are Stephen Byers, John Rasmus, and Mark Jannot. Lastly, they note that Joh n Ware acted as their agent for this book. Oh, and they thank all of the editors (en masse) "who indulged our obsession with Albanov while it delayed and threatened to derail other work."

Finally, on the back flap of the dust jacket, Gabrielle Bordwin is credited with the cover design, and the photograph on the cover is credited to S. Preobrazhensky/SOVFOTO.

Back to Anonymous, the indexer. In addition to the in-depth treatment of places and people, she has diligently gath ered together the myriad references to animals that Albanov makes. Seals, walruses, polar bears and birds of many types are mentioned in the book, with comments on their nature or activities, as well as on their importance as nutrition for Albanov and his party. She is thorough. In analyzing her index and the text, I have estimated that it contains approximately 1,035 page references for approximately 6,665 lines of text (6.4 lines per locator). What this means is that there is a nugget of information that she has mined from the text approximately every six lines or so. Expressed another way, she has found that there are about five important items on every page, and she has dutifully cited each one.

Indexers, while working in some degree of isolat ion (most freelance indexers are home-based), work cooperatively with their editors or authors in shaping the index. Publishers have specific formats for how they want their indexes presented, and indexers incorporate those style guidelines. My point here is that they are a part of the process, and one of the few people, besides the author, who produce original written work. Think on that for a moment. It's time for publishers to give indexers their due. Give her a name. "Index. by So-and-so."

Postscript: I contacted Dennis Ambrose at Random House for comment on this topic. He was extremely helpful, and sympathetic. He indicated that the index is just not credited, and he wouldn't know where to put such a credit. He agreed that current publishing conventions dictate leaving the indexer anonymous to the reader. In fact, it hasn't occurred to him to ever give credit. He noted that copyeditors, proofreaders, designers, and even editors are also not usually credited. I agreed, but noted that m ost, or many, of those people are at least acknowledged by the authors in the Acknowledgement. He said that the indexer might appear there as well, but that it is written so far in advance of the index's creation, and there is such time pressure at the end of production, there isn't time to add the indexer.

On the index itself, Ambrose said that it was newly created for the book. The indexer of this book is Judith Hancock, from Princeton, New Jersey, a much-appreciated and talented indexer who Amb rose works with frequently. So, now we know. "Index. by Judith Hancock."