Unfortunately, in our MSLS program, we have experienced rising administrative expectations for minimum student numbers to approve a course, which has affected our ability to offer indexing. I would argue that even BOB indexing is still somewhat relevant, but, as Mr. Fesenko and others have noted, general indexing skills are still used across our field for all sorts of cultural heritage subject access. I've seen wonderful online subject indexes to provide access to non-digitized materials, such as old vertical files. And I am an unfailing advocate of indexing local historical newspapers, even if OCR for publicly accessible copies is at 99%. At our local cultural heritage sites, we receive research requests that are as broad as "info on any murders in your town in the 1920s," which is easily answered only with subject access. Since some of our students end up at small, public libraries working with local special collections, I do encourage them to take indexing. I think the practice with thesauri term relationships and hierarchies, reading and understanding NISO standards, understanding how controlled vocabularies are used in indexing, as well as the development/use of terms emergent from texts in BOB and other indexing situations, can be very useful in later projects.
The value of the indexing course is apparent to me almost daily in my work with the Woodlawn Cemetery Indexing Project. We are transcribing burial registers into spreadsheets, but only part of that information will be matched to metadata fields for the public access Omeka site. We are utilizing multiple data sets to determine the existence of burials, each of which will have a unique identifier assigned and a digital record in the Omeka site. Our grad student group placed into this field experience recently discussed the differences between verbatim transcription of a primary document for use as a digitally accessible historical source and the use of that information, vetted and modified, in an online index of cemetery burial information. That distinction between transcription and index is very important in genealogical and local cultural heritage work. I think the packaging of the course can be important, though we have tried to rename it, most recently, Indexing in the Digital Age, which also fell flat with students. We have moved some practical application work for cultural heritage aspects into the Local Special Collection Representation class, so that part is taught annually, but cannot begin to cover the full spectrum of concepts that normally would be covered in indexing. We are sometimes able to offer indexing in the summer.
Rhonda L. Clark, MA, MLIS, Ph.D.
Professor of Information and Library Science
Department of Information and Library Science
840 Wood Street
Clarion, PA 16214 (814) 393-1632
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Online scheduler for Zoom meetings: https://www.supersaas.com/schedule/DrClark/Appointments