Professional indexers: the international perspective

In the Netherlands, few people have ever heard of back-of-the-book indexing as a profession. When you tell people that you create book indexes, you often hear that they have no idea what it entails. After some explanation, the reaction is often disbelief that there are people who do this and that it’s not done by computers. The group of professional indexers in the Netherlands is therefore small. But there are of course more countries in the world than just the Netherlands, and there are also countries where there are many more indexers and the profession is somewhat less unknown.

Whereas in the Netherlands – if a book has an index at all – a simple name index is often sufficient, in the Anglo-Saxon world it is much more common to add a combined name and subject index to a book. Consequently, countries like the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia have many more indexers and have professional associations for indexers. China also has a thriving indexing culture, as well as the world’s largest association of indexers.


Some of these associations organize their own training courses to become a professional indexer, such as the British Society of Indexers (SI) and the American Society for Indexing (ASI). There is also an extensive range of conferences, workshops, webinars, and publications to keep the indexer’s professional knowledge and skills up to date. Many Dutch indexers also make grateful use of this range of education and training opportunities.

This emphasis on training and professional development makes sense, as creating a combined name and subject index requires much more brainpower and analytical skills than the creation of  a name index only.

The International journal of indexing: The Indexer

There is a professional international English-language journal for indexers: The Indexer, the International Journal of Indexing. The journal is published by Liverpool University. First published in 1958, the journal has been around for 65 years. It is published quarterly.

Its contents consist of a wide variety of articles from all over the world. They cover the latest techniques, such as the creation of indexes for e-books, historical topics, such as the ‘Index of Forbidden Books’, or topics related to the creation of indexes, such as the history of the alphabet. A topic that provokes much discussion and on which there have been quite a few articles is: What do you do with a translated book that has a detailed index of names and subjects in the original edition? Do you translate the index or create a new index from the translation? A question that many Dutch publishers also face with some regularity.

ICRIS and international conferences

The various national associations and networks of indexing societies work together in a partnership called ICRIS. ICRIS stands for International Committee of Representatives of Indexing Societies.

ICRIS members are the associations and networks from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the United States, China, South Africa, Germany, and the Netherlands. This cooperation is enshrined in an international agreement. Every three years, this agreement is reviewed and updated to ensure that it best reflects what is happening among the participating associations and networks. The ICRIS meeting takes place every three years in a different place in the world, in combination with an international conference. In 2018, for instance, the meeting took place in Shanghai. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the next meeting then took place only four years later, in Berlin. The venue for the 2025 ICRIS meeting will be either the United States or Canada.

International dictionary of index terms

A relatively recent international project is the Multilingual Dictionary of Indexing Terms, an international dictionary of commonly used index terms in six languages: English, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. The dictionary has recently become available online. The project is still very much a ‘work in progress’ and more languages, such as Italian, are likely to be added.

The aim of the project is to raise awareness among indexers about technical terms related to indexing used and applied in various countries, which will make it easier to understand each other. However, the dictionary is also intended to raise awareness among people from cultures where indexing is less common about indexing terms that exist in their own language. As this project only recently started, it is too early to say whether the project has achieved these goals.

National Indexing Day

In conclusion, we briefly touch upon two other developments with an international dimension.

For several years now, some English-speaking indexing associations have celebrated National Indexing Day (NID). This happens mainly in the UK and Australia/New Zealand. NID is celebrated on 30 March, the day on which the British Society of Indexers, the world’s oldest indexing association, was founded in 1957. NID aims to raise awareness of the indexing profession, and all that it entails. Publishers in particular are the target group. There are also plans at the NIN to join this and to organize our own NID from next year onwards. We will keep you informed!

International website

And then there is also an international website on indexing under development. The aim of this is to have a good place where all the information is brought together, and especially to improve the findability of that information, as it is now very scattered all over the internet. The website is still under development, so unfortunately we cannot publish a URL here yet, but as soon as it is there, we will definitely put the link on our own NIN website!