Indexer Isobel McLean is another admirable winner of the Unsung Heroes of Publishing 2018. We asked her a few questions about her work, the appeal of indexing and the impact of the rise of technology on the profession. For a complete list of #UHoP18 winners please see more here.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work. How did you get into indexing?
Originally, I qualified as a Librarian but was not very happy in my job as I didn’t actually have much to do with books. I was interested also in working from home on a freelance basis, and indexing seemed to fit the bill.
Why does indexing appeal to you and what are the benefits of working in this field?
Following on from the above, indexing appeals to me because I am actually working with books. Also, I like the freedom and flexibility of freelance work, and the chance to use my skills properly. In the course of my work, I find myself reading books I wouldn’t normally read if left to my own devices, which is good as it broadens the mind and increases my general knowledge. Very helpful with Village Hall quiz nights! I have worked for many of the same publishers over the years, and have built up good relationships with them. Sadly, some of them have disappeared due to technology and globalisation, but thankfully many are still standing.
Technological developments have somewhat changed the way that indexers work – have you found this to be of benefit or hindrance to you, and if so, how? Equally, what are you able to do that computer programmes just can’t compete with?
Good indexing software – in my case, Macrex – is essential, since it cuts out much of the routine work by automatically arranging entries in alphabetical order among other things. However, my personal input is very important. I have specialist subject knowledge of history, philosophy and social sciences (I have an M.A. in modern European history), as well as areas that I am interested in personally, such as cookery and gardening. I like to work out the structure of the book as a whole and see that the index reflects this. I can also spot errors and inconsistencies which other people may have missed.
What is the best book you’ve read recently?
Recently I have been reading the novels of Alison Weir – she is a professional historian who also writes historical novels, mainly about royal women such as Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey.