In creating, the only hard thing's to begin;

 A grass blade's no easier to make than an oak.

 - James Russell Lowell


            Following advice that I had read from numerous sources, after I had registered my company name with city and county, I went in search of volunteer opportunities in which to practice my art.  There are two local historical societies—one for my city and one for another that resides in a nearby winery.  I chose the latter. 

            So one morning I walked into the three-room facility looking for whoever seemed like the “head honcho.”  Of course, everyone there was a volunteer but somehow one came to be the leader by default.  A cluster was standing by a window as I approached.  After introducing myself and the free service I was offering I was met with stunned silence.  Pause.  “We were just saying how we needed someone to do indexing work” (or words to that effect).  My turn to be stunned.  Pause.  “Great!”says I (or words to that effect).

            The upshot of this exchange was for me to contact the lead volunteer later in the month to check if the historical society board gave their approval for me to work for them.  For free.  (Free for them that is—I had to buy a membership).

            I guess the price was right because I started working in a couple of weeks.  My first assignment (which I’m still working on) was to index a local newspaper (sort of) which only ran from 1962 to 1967.  Great.  A periodical.  I’ve never done a periodical.  Of course, I’ve never done anything really.  “Great!” says I.

            After getting a fifteen minute tour of the archives I realized that my task was not going to be indexing just this defunct pseudo newspaper but the entire collection!  Well now.

            When I got back home I started ruminating upon the situation.  First, I needed to look up info on indexing periodicals. ** Not much out there.  I asked on index-l and kindly received referrals.  I thoroughly read, reread, and highlighted the few articles.  Simmons College periodically (pun intended) offers a course which I intend to take some day—just not today.  [Update:  recently found a booklet offered through SI on periodical indexing:  “Indexing Newspapers, Magazines And Other Periodicals” by Geraldine Beare].

            First I needed to design a flexible locator system.  Nature likes the number three and so do I.  So I decided that most information would be represented by groups of three characters.  Exceptions to this rule include:  year—indicated by a two-digit number, column—indicated by a number 1-5, page—indicated by an appropriate single-digit number (no range).  When I get to indexing other collections perhaps I will need to use shelf or accession numbers; I don’t know—I will decide that when I get to it.  For now I use something that looks like this:  BBRAug62fig3c2


            BBR—abbreviation for the name of the newspaper collection

Aug—month of the issue.  For other collections this may represent other dates.  The number of the year follows.

fig—stands for figure.  I use other three letter groupings to stand for other formats.  e.g. “pht” for photo, “act” for article, “rvw” for review, “obt” for obituary, “opn” for opinion.  Again, this may be altered later if the need arises.

3c2—this is a locator standing for page 3 column 2.  I decided I would indicate where the information first appears and avoid ranges at least for this collection where all articles are short and easily scanned.  This was to avoid making the entries even longer than they had to be.

So a complete entry would look like this:

            Smith, John


                                    City Forges Ahead, BBRJul62art3c2


                                    J.P. Smith Takes Charge, BBRJun62art4c1


I decided to have only one level of subject subheadings.  However, since there is usually more than one article per page I needed to include the name of each one which, for data entry purposes, acts as a sub subheading.  (I also include instructions for this system in a headnote).


            Now  for the indexing.  Since there was no extant index I had to start from scratch.  The historical society does have file cabinets full of manila folders stuffed with clippings.  There is also a list of titles for these folders.  I entered these titles into my indexing software (I love SKY) as a controlled vocabulary and highlighted them in red (using SKY’s color labeling feature).  Many of these file titles have been and will be altered as I pick up the term.

            So I headed for the shelves in the back room behind the “Staff Use Only” curtain.  I took down the box holding the first couple years of the paper, set it down on a long bare plastic table, opened the box and found…treasure!  Fragile, folded leafs of history.  Of ambitions.  Of dreams.  With a few tears along the fold lines. (Life metaphor here).

            As I began entering terms I began to truly grasp the scope of the project I was entering into.  I was going to have to index virtually every thing and every one.  At least when I asked myself “Should I index this?” the answer was easy:  “Yes.”  Because for a researcher all information was fair game.

            So I inputted all my information for the first year of the paper.  Then it was time to edit.  Silly me vastly underestimated the time it was going to take me for this phase of the project.  It wasn’t because I had chosen my terms poorly, it was because I was trying to make sure that the terms I used would work for not only the information I had read but for all the information I would ever read and for all objects I might encounter.  So I was creating main headings and subheadings for topics I had not even encountered yet—rather like building a massive scaffold that could hold up all facts.

            One of the volunteers at the historical society suggested my looking up the “Sears List of Subject Headings.”  “What’s that?” I asked.  She explained that all librarians (one of which she had been) used to study this.  So, again, when I returned home I hit the internet for elucidation.  The ALA (American Library Association) has a couple videos on the use of Sears cataloging.  Here’s the link:  (Take only with lots of caffeine).

            I also found a copy of the text in a library about half an hour from my house.  (Mind you there are three libraries within fifteen minutes of me none of which had a copy—obviously this was a popular reference).  After a thorough perusal I decided I should probably have a copy.  So I logged onto Amazon and ordered a not-too-old used edition. 

For those not familiar with the text the Sears book was written by Minnie Earl Sears in 1923 under the title of “List of Subject Headings For Small Libraries” (the title was changed in 1950 to the current name) for the purpose of giving small libraries a controlled vocabulary that was more general-public-user-friendly than that of the Library of Congress.  That sounded like exactly what I wanted—maximum ease of use for anyone walking through the doors of the historical society.  And, hopefully, defaulting to the terms used in Sears will allow those people hunting across libraries and historical societies to know what terms to look under for the information they want.  Of course, this does not exclude the liberal use of cross-references.

            Now for the confusing part of this endeavor:  the information itself.  This index is supposed to predominately cover the history of a particular geographic region—a development actually.  One that was started in the 1960s.  Superficially that would seem simple enough.  However, this pseudo newspaper I’m working on was realistically just a marketing vehicle in which to wow potential clients on the wonders-to-come. The pages are filled with photos of land being graded, enormous underground pipes being installed, smiling pioneer residents, and drawings.  Drawings of the overall community, the subcommunities, home floor plans and recreation facilities.  Some of these had names, some didn’t.  Names.  Sigh.  Sometimes the original name was kept, sometimes it wasn’t.  Sometimes more than one form of the name was used.  (Keep in mind I am talking about inanimate institutions not people).

            This is where a thorough knowledge base of what one is indexing comes in handy.  I do not have that knowledge.  Fortunately I work among other volunteers who do—several of whom are long-time active residents.  So as I continue to work on the edit phase of the index I am continually throwing out questions to those around me in the hopes that someone will catch one then pour forth their copious knowledge to me.  So far, so good.***

            While working I’ve discovered another conundrum.  The “subject” of this index is a community which is a subset of a large city and which also adjoins another.  Unlike a book which is complete unto itself this community interacts with its surroundings.  So the news of a neighboring city may be included in the indexable information.  Here is the issue with that: does one separate the scattered information of other places under the name of those cities or does one scoop it up with all the rest of the information for the target community?  An example is “libraries.”  The target community (the community for which the index is being developed) has one library but there are two others within a few miles of it.  The options I have are to list every library separately by name as a main entry, or to list them as subheadings under the main entry of “libraries” with appropriate glosses.

Library of A                                                              libraries

Library of B                          OR                                          Library of A

Library of C                                                                          Library of B (city name here)

                                                                                                Library of C (city name here)


At this time I have decided to go with the second option.  But, if enough information starts to present itself, I may decide later to double post using both options.  With unlimited indexing space this would be possible.  The question I may end up asking myself is not “if I could” but “if I should.”

            My usual edit sessions involve scribbling corrections on my index print out, entering said changes on my computer, scribbling more corrections, etc.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Progress forward through the index alphabet is slow.  Especially when I get a surprise such as:  “Didn’t you know we had name files?”  “No,” I responded for I had assumed that the list I had of subject files (that I had used to give me my original CV) was all there was—not a stupid assumption since this list also included names.  “I had better have that list as well,” I added.  So when I got home with my new prize I again entered a list of file names some of which duplicated those I already had.  Thank goodness for SKY’s tool that can remove duplicate entries.  So I was then ready to continue.

            Another set of additions came to my growing CV when I asked the volunteers for clarification concerning a name of an institution which I had seen written three different ways.  “Well, what does it call itself now?” I asked.  A helpful co-volunteer reached up to one of many bookshelves and plucked out a community guide.  That was helpful.  But as I thumbed through the pages I realized I had a new issue to address.  One of my main entries “banks and savings & loans” had “See individual institutions by name” next to it.  That had seemed logical to me—for a few weeks.  But after perusing this guide it occurred to me that a researcher would not necessarily know what names to look under.  I didn’t want him/her to have to look through the entire index looking for the appropriate entries.  And I did not want to make them subheadings.   (I may change my mind later and double-post).  Sigh.  I was going to have to list all the names after the “See” cross-reference.  And I needed to do the same procedure for clubs, markets, etc.  Again I reflect that it’s a good thing that my index has no size restrictions. 

            While I am on the topic of names I want to mention here what some mean person did.  Whoever was in charge of naming the local streets decided it would be a good idea if he used at least one of four words for half of them.  I may exaggerate some—but not much.  When my family first moved near this area and was trying to navigate the streets we were, of course, reading every sign trying to memorize them.  Uggh!!  It was much easier to remember to turn left at the big sycamore, drive past the market and turn right at the house with the display of pretty red geraniums.  In time the names of the major streets were memorized**** but negotiating some housing developments is still challenging.  Example:  Go down Arbor Ranch Avenue, turn right on Ranch Oaks Street, another right on Oaks Lane, and then a final left on Oaks Circle.  I kid you not.  And I have a main entry of “streets.”

            Because of issues like these I finally decided that I needed to keep a page of Questions which will require some work to answer.  This may include a little research and even some calls to city hall.

            I will not even talk about the mysteries and vagaries of the magic boxes called “computers.”  You know what they are.  You know what they can do.  Or not do.

            Finally I want to leave you with a mention of a continuing conundrum of mine.  That is knowing when something is “good enough.”  My husband who is a consultant in another field tells me that that is an issue with him as well.  And for that matter, all consultants.  And I think this is also an issue with many areas in life.  Having raised two children I was able to note their different approaches to school work.  One was able to stop writing when he came to the required number of pages.  It was not poor quality work but he knew how to stop.  On the other hand my daughter would always liberally surpass any page limit then have to work hard to edit down to something approaching the requirement.  This too was good work but more than was necessary. (By the way, she went on to get a creative writing degree).  I think I may take after my daughter.  But I’m working at editing while creating.

            And so I keep on practicing………………..


**Even though I was to first index a periodical I later realized that what I really needed to set up was a database CV.

***The historical society hosts a once-a-month series of lectures on the region.  I have just resigned myself to dedicate some more of my time to attend these in the hope that it will aid my future endeavors there.   

****Just recently I learned from another volunteer that many of our Spanish sounding street names are fictitious—not really words at all.  I find this a hilarious illustration of marketing by developers and not at all surprising.