This is the third in a series of interviews with fellow AFEPI colleagues on their particular line of work. Alex McKee talks to Eileen O’Neill, an indexer based in Carlow town, about how she got started in indexing and her passion and enthusiasm for creating back-of-book indexes for a variety of subjects.
Eileen, can you briefly describe your background before you became an indexer?
In my early twenties I worked as a bank official in Dublin. My husband is a self-employed accountant and I worked with him in a secretarial role for fifteen years. I studied for a BSc with Oscail (DCU) and, following graduation, I undertook a post-graduate diploma in Library and Information Studies at UCD. This led to employment in the Library at Trinity College where I spent four happy years with access to virtually unlimited supplies of books.
How did you start in indexing?
When my contract at Trinity College came to an end, I embarked on an indexing course with the Society of Indexers. I completed the course in 2011 and I have been happily indexing ever since. I work mainly with Irish publishers and indirectly with some UK and American publishers – this happens when I am commissioned by an academic whose text is being published by a University Press based in the UK or USA.
What interested you about taking a course in indexing specifically?
While attending a cataloguing seminar at the National Library I heard about the training course provided by the Society of Indexers. The cataloguing project I was working on at TCD was coming to an end so I needed to find alternative employment. I had no idea how indexes were created but I’ve always appreciated the value of a well-constructed index. The Society of Indexers website provides a wealth of information on their training course. I was fairly sure that indexing would suit me. It was a surprise to discover that most indexes are created by freelance indexers; there are relatively few indexers working in-house for publishers. There are dedicated indexing software programmes available (e.g. Cindex, Sky, Macrex). The software will automatically sort the entries into alphabetical order and allow the user to generate an index. The indexer must choose the appropriate headings and subheadings and take care to avoid long strings of undifferentiated page numbers. I enjoy the challenge of choosing headings and subheadings which create clear signposts to all the information in the text.
What skills are needed to work in this field?
Attention to detail is important and also the ability to work to a strict deadline. By the time the book reaches the indexing stage everything else is in place and the time allocated to the indexer can be very limited.
Can you briefly describe the services you offer?
I provide back-of-book indexes. I index a wide variety of books, excluding medical and legal texts unless these are aimed at the general reader. Some indexers choose to specialise in legal and medical texts. I enjoy the variety of books I am asked to index. These include: biography, cookery, geography, history, local history, social history, sociology and religion.
I have indexed Carloviana (journal of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society) from 1947 to 2016. The next task will be to update the index to cover the period from 2017 to 2021.
What have been your most exciting/interesting projects?
It’s very difficult to choose just a couple of books from the many texts I have indexed over the last ten years.
I recently indexed The Making of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, a memoir by Sir David Goodall (published by the National University of Ireland). This book provides a fascinating account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations and the infinite patience required by the negotiating teams.
Another outstanding book was Adomnán’s Lex Innocentium and the Laws of War by James W. Houlihan (published by Four Courts Press). Adomnán’s law was designed to protect the innocent (women, children and non-combatants) in times of conflict.
What issues do you commonly see when you index this type of work?
Volumes of essays by multiple authors can be tricky. The terminology can vary enormously even though they are all broadly addressing the same issue or topic.
Any last thoughts to share?
Indexing suits me as I like the freedom of being my own boss and I am happy to work in splendid isolation, but I appreciate that it wouldn’t suit everyone. For anyone interested in indexing as a career I would recommend visiting the Society of Indexers website and having a look at Becoming an Indexer on the following link:
AFEPI Ireland would like to thank Eileen O’Neill for sharing her thoughts on indexing. Please see her bio below.
Eileen O’Neill grew up in rural County Limerick and lives in Carlow town with her husband Pat. He is a keen amateur historian and has an extensive library. She often consults both her husband and his books when working on a history text. They have four adult children: Aisling is an engineer and capital finance analyst; Shane is an architect; David is an electronic engineer and Rebecca is project coordinator for @wikimediaIE.
The views expressed are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of AFEPI Ireland.