The American Society for Indexing may be an unknown group to most reading a blog dedicated to taxonomy work. Yet we share a focus on making content accessible, albeit through different strategies. The American Society of Indexers (ASI) was established in 1968 to promote the work of back-of-book indexers and facilitate their interaction. In 2008, it was renamed to the American Society for Indexing with the stated purpose “to promote excellence in indexing, and to serve indexers and others concerned with indexing.” The name change reflected a broadening of scope, including taxonomy work and coinciding with the establishment of the Taxonomy SIG (special interest group). ASI’s training course even includes a taxonomy construction module. The expansion is a response to the mushrooming of electronic content and increasing need for simplifying access to online materials. Yet, for the society focused on “indexing,” taxonomic indexing is called tagging and has seemed an afterthought at best. Indeed, few database indexers attend conferences, and there is little mention of their activity.

I don’t want to emphasize divisions, but this is hard to ignore. At ASI’s 2013 conference, a rough estimate of attendees with serious and active interest in taxonomies is about 5%. All the references to “indexing” and “indexers” sound like I’m in the right place, until I realize they don’t mean what I mean. (No controlled vocabulary here. Need to disambiguate.) A few people in the organization are cross-overs, operating comfortably on both sides. Contrasting taxonomy and book indexing work, one confessed, “I sometimes don’t know into which camp I should put my foot.”

At the Taxonomy SIG meeting, the question of “where do taxonomists go to meet and learn?” was raised. Some gained knowledge through conference workshops or online courses. A few are employed by one or two large organizations, while others gained experience as freelancers or are newbies looking for opportunities. Some were aware of SLA’s Taxonomy Division but see it as a library-oriented organization, and Taxonomy Boot Camp, if known, was considered far too expensive. So where do taxonomists go? And where in the “indexing” world do taxonomies and their makers fit? The Taxonomy SIG is looking at ways to ease the crossover, reaching out and exploring collaboration.

An exciting glimmer of coming together shines with the work of ASI’s Digital Trends Task Force. This group, active for a couple of years, is driven by the growth of e-books. Where does a back-of-the-book index fit in an e-book? The group is pushing to move the A-Z index front and center, recognized as metadata for the book as well as a valuable digital object in itself with a number of value-added applications. They are not just dealing with print book publishers but with Adobe and Amazon. One described the David and Goliath meetings as “like a flea talking to an elephant.” In a parallel move, aiming to practice what they preach, ASI is attending more to indexing their own journal, Key Words. No doubt, this will involve the creation and ongoing implementation of a taxonomy for use beyond a single issue…and taxonomic indexing, intriguingly framed as indexing mash-ups to serve sale and discovery of multiple products. As one ASI forward-thinking member put it, it’s a continuum with “a slide toward taxonomies.”

When I first attended an ASI annual meeting a few years ago, I wrote about the wide gap between A-Z book indexing and taxonomic indexing. The divide remains, and I still have to think twice when I hear all the references to “indexing” and “indexers.” However, I’m pleased to say that ASI may be taking important steps to narrow the differences between book indexing and taxonomy implementation to improve access to content. Perhaps the American Society for Indexing will lead the way in indexing, inclusive in its efforts “to promote excellence in indexing” of all types.

Alice Redmond-Neal
Chief Taxonomist, Senior Editor
Access Innovations