This interview appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Bulletin, the Indexing Society of Canada’s newsletter.
Editor of Indexing Names Noeline Bridge has been an indexer for more than 20 years. She has published numerous articles on indexing and is the co-author of Royals of England: A Guide for Readers, Travellers, and Genealogists. Recently Iva Cheung interviewed her by email about Indexing Names, which was edited by Noeline and was published this year by Information Today [ITI].
IC: What motivated you to compile Indexing Names?
NB: Two interrelated and rather vague thoughts led to the book: that I’d thought on and off over the years that I’d like to write a book on some aspect of indexing; then, publishing articles and making presentations on names, this vague idea turned into a book on names. Also, over the years, other indexers had been producing books about indexing but one devoted to names wasn’t one of them. My conversation with John Bryans at the Information Today booth at a conference was the trigger. I was perusing the books on display, and John remarked that he wished more indexers would write books. I found myself asking, “So you would be interested if I wrote a book on indexing names?” To which he replied, “My response is, ‘When can you get it to me?’” A short time later, a posting on Index-L [an indexing listserv] mentioned the need for a book on indexing names. After drawing a few deep breaths, I responded to say that I was thinking about doing this, knowing I was making a commitment and would be doing it.
IC: How did you find, approach, and select contributors? Did you give them content guidelines?
NB: I’ve always collected listserv postings about names for my presentations and articles, so I went through those looking for expertise and writing skills, and also ASI [American Society for Indexing]/ITI’s books on indexing. As my outline took shape, I dived into the listings of indexers available on the indexing societies’ websites, looking for relevant interests and experience. I thought it would be easy to secure writers and articles, that everyone would have the same reaction I do when asked to write, leaping at the opportunity and producing the article! I was naive. Quite a few people turned me down—nicely, I must add!—but several referred me to others, some of whom agreed, while others referred me to others, and so on, or suggested another relevant topic that ultimately bore fruit. Over time, a few writers dropped out, inevitably and understandably—indexers qualified to write chapters for books are very busy already, and when their lives became complicated by health or family issues, the added burden of writing proved to be just too much for them. A couple of others just never produced their chapters after showing initial interest. For very important chapters I later found substitute writers or included that material in my own chapters. Other ideas, I just had to drop. Seeing how difficult it was to secure writers, I imposed only a few guidelines for fear of putting off potential writers. Enid Zafran, ASI’s editor for their books, wanted substantive material, which I did too. I asked for lots of examples along with background information—historical, where relevant—so that indexers could make informed decisions when examples didn’t match their requirements. I decided to worry about length later, just asking them to write what they wished in the meantime. Editing would come later.
IC: In the book’s introduction, you write that as you worked on the book, its direction changed and that the final product is “not the names indexing encyclopedia that I had envisaged.” What was that initial vision? And if you could add any material to the book now, what would you choose to add?
NB: When the book was a vague idea, I had various equally vague ideas, like some vast compendium of short pieces on names belonging to as many nationalities and ethnicities as possible, or a compilation of all published articles on the subject, or… I wasn’t sure. However, when I approached Enid about the book, quite naturally she wanted an outline as soon as possible. So I had to produce one fast, realizing that only when I had at least a temporary outline could I approach possible writers. I still wanted as many national/ethnic names as I could get, but my compiled listserv messages were often about specific issues regarding names indexing, and names in particular genres of books. So then I came up with the divisions in the book, feeling rather uneasily that it would look like three books in one, and even wondering if I should produce three books. But the latter idea disappeared when I confronted the realities of securing writers, so only the one book was feasible, at least at the time! Outstanding material that I was dearly hoping to include was North American Native names; someone was interested initially but then dropped out, and although I tried hard, I never found a substitute. Others were more Asian names and at least some African ones, a chapter on local history (lots of name issues there!), religious names outside of Christianity (although some of that material was covered in other articles), and, somewhat similarly, European royalty and aristocracy.
IC: What I appreciate about the book is that it offers context and suggestions but isn’t overly prescriptive. It’s a guide, not a strict set of rules. And there is a recurring emphasis on respecting the author and reader in almost all of the contributions. Was that the effect you had hoped for?
NB: I’m glad you noticed and appreciated this aspect. As I mention in the book, I am a former library cataloguer, where we had to use a prescriptive, rules-based approach—as big databases must—to ensure uniqueness and matches for each person’s name. As a freelance back-of-the-book indexer, I came to realize that in this indexing context, genre and reader and authors’ and publishers’ styles often dictate especially how long or short, formal or informal, an indexed name should be. Consequently I changed my terminology from rules to conventions or guidelines in my articles and presentations. Reading the contributors’ chapters expanded my own flexibility and sensitivity to genre, styles, and user issues.
IC: You note in your chapter “Resources for Personal Names” that references are increasingly Web-based. Any plans to turn Indexing Names into a Web resource?
NB: No, I don’t think so. Although many websites remain surprisingly stable, other valuable ones arrive and depart or change their URLs. All URLs have to be checked often, and especially just before publication deadline, a time-consuming process—and frustrating when one tries to discover if the website is now under another name or has simply been pulled. Also, because books have to be finalized many months before publication, at least some URLs aren’t going to be current when the book comes out. Web-based resources are, I think, the stuff of journal articles but not published books.
IC: You wrote the index for Indexing Names—how intimidating was it to compose an index for a book by indexers about indexing?
NB: It was always on my mind that indexers would be using my index and judging it not only by how easily they found needed information but also how I’d structured it. One of my first index users pointed out to me that he’d looked up “stage names” and not found an entry, although there is a chapter on the names of performing artists—a See reference I should have thought of! And perhaps there are others… I shudder to think!