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Exhaustivity of Indexes: excerpt

by Bella Hass Weinberg; Reprinted with permission

Key Words, Vol. 7/No. 5 (September/October 1999), p. 9.

Excerpted from an article by Bella Hass Weinberg: "Exhaustivity of Indexes: Books, Journals, and Electronic Full Text"—Summary of a Workshop Presented at the 1999 ASI Annual Conference.

Memorability as Criterion

Above we examined the clause of the international standard for indexing (ISO, 1996, section 4) which states that an index should serve a user who recalls a passage in a text. Thus my next topic is memorability as a criterion for indexing. Collison (1972, p. 60) addresses this concept in relation to indexable matter. The specific case I selected to illustrate this point is the titles of recipes. Hans Wellisch (1996, p. 95) calls for omitting those that contain the name of their inventor, such as Aunt Nellie. I disagree with this advice, but particularly with Hans' reason:

" ... nobody but the author will know who she is or was." That is irrelevant—the point at issue is that if you recall the name of an eponymic recipe, an index entry for its title is a far faster way to access the recipe than the common terms for the ingredients.

There is conflicting advice on this matter in Cynthia Bertelsen's (1999) article on cookbook indexing. In two passages (pp. 1, 6) she states that recipe titles are indexable, but then she hedges on the personal name issue (p. 8). She advocates using the names in subheadings, but suggests entering them as main headings only "if space permits" (ibid.). We have so little research on index users that I'm not sure I can accept Cynthia's assumption that "most ... will look for the ingredient or the type of dish first" (ibid.). Those who have not read the book may peruse the table of contents or the body of the work to find a broad category.

Bertelsen's final clause relates to the memorability criterion: If people have read the cookbook or used the recipe before, they will look for the title in the index. That's the way I approach cookbooks: I would like to find Russian meatballs (a recipe I have often used) under R, and not have to hunt for it under ground beef, beef—ground, or meat—beef. Research on library catalogs has demonstrated that a high percentage of their use is for "known-item searches," and the same is probably true of book indexes.

Bertelsen, Cynthia D. "A Piece of Cake?: Cookbook Indexing—Basic Guidelines and Resources." Key Words vol. 7 no. 1 (Jan./Feb. 1999), pp. 1, 6-12.

Collison, Robert L. Indexes and Indexing. 4th rev. ed. London: Ernest Benn; New York: John de Graff, 1972.

[ISO, 1996] International Organization for Standardization. Information and Documentation Guidelines for the Content, Organization and Presentation of Indexes. Geneva, Switzerland: ISO, 1996.

Wellisch, Hans H. Indexing from A to Z. 2nd ed., revised and enlarged. New York; Dublin: H.W. Wilson, 1995, c1996.