Indexing is a profession admirably adapted to a girl who has received a thoroughly sound education, particularly if she has a special acquaintance with one or more branches of knowledge-scientific, literary, historical, or technical in nature.
The necessary training is not unduly long or expensive, and the profession is one in which good openings are undoubtedly increasing. Government and municipal departments, newspapers, and the periodical press generally are becoming more and more keenly alive to the advantages of expert indexing. In many publishing houses even now, however, this work is entrusted to a subordinate clerk, but indexes thus produced are of very little value. It is not enough to make an alphabetically arranged list of the various main subjects of a book-a contents table would do equally well-but all the allusion and references, and the less obvious bearings of the subject should find a place in a good index, which thus forms a practical commentary on the work itself.
Many municipal authorities throughout the country have had their ancient records, mostly written in Latin, catalogued. The more modern, though also ancient, documents have been bound up in subject volumes, and an index made covering a period of several years, the whole being brought up to date by an annual index of the records of each succeeding year. There is every prospect of this class of work increasing; it is of an interesting nature, and the indexer has to visit each of the different towns in turn, since in no circumstances are the volumes allowed to leave their respective town halls.
Many people think that any well-educated person can compile an index.
Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth, as in no case can special training be dispensed with. Not only is the amateur's work unsatisfactory when finished, but she wastes much valuable time by roundabout methods; she does not know - the " short cuts " which enable the trained worker to eliminate many of the intervening stages in the building up of the index. Care should be taken to train under a lady indexer, who not only possesses a good connection, but also undertakes a wide range of work.
Six months is the minimum period necessary for even a superficial training. For technical and scientific indexing quite eighteen months is required.
One well-known lady indexer, Miss Mary Petherbridge, of the Secretarial Bureau, 52A, Conduit Street, London W., takes pupils and trains them in indexing and in secretarial work, the fee for the combined course being £75. Another lady indexer, Miss Bailey, of 12, Little College Street, Westminster, also gives the necessary training, and there are several others with whom would-be pupils can get into communication by consulting one of the societies established to assist the employment of gentlewomen, such as the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women, 5, Princes Street, Cavendish Square, London, W.; the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women, Berners Street, London, W., etc.
Many women are employed in permanent posts at fixed salaries; the " Daily Mail " was among the very first to employ women in this capacity, and " The Times " also has a permanent staff. The salaries paid, of course, vary in different firms, being often £1oo, and sometimes £200 a year. Many women would do better in a post of this description than working on their own account, but such positions are not always easy to obtain, and the indexer must be prepared to work as an outsider while waiting her opportunity.
The majority of indexers are, in fact, engaged on piecework, and this is an even more lucrative branch of the profession for those who possess the qualities necessary to make it a success. Indexing is not a profession for those who cannot afford to wait; it is necessary to have money or friends behind one from the beginning until a connection is formed. It is for this reason that Miss Petherbridge will not take pupils for indexing alone, but combines it with instruction in general secretarial training, so that her students may have a second profession to fall back upon in case of necessity. Moreover, as in most professions, not everyone who is able to acquire a competent knowledge of the work will achieve practical success.
There are many men in the medical and legal professions to whom the passing of the necessary examinations presented no special difficulties, yet who are never able to work up a practice, and this is often the case in indexing, where much depends on personal qualities.
A woman working entirely by herself cannot hope to make more than £150 a year, but if she is fortunate enough to obtain plenty of work, she can open an office, and by employing others to work under her, add largely to her income, the training of pupils providing a further source of revenue.
The prices paid for indexing vary according to the class of work undertaken.
Government departments pay at the rate of 2s. per printed page for the indexing of Blue Books, and this may be taken as representing a fair standard. For works of a scientific character the remuneration is sometimes as high as from 2s. 6d. to 5s. an hour, or from £2 2s. a thousand entries, but if the work is a lengthy one, such as the indexing of a great encyclopaedia, a salary of £3 or £4 a week is paid till its completion.
Publishers of ordinary books do not as a rule pay very well; many of them have a fixed price of £2 2s., irrespective of the nature of the work and its length. If the book is of a simple character from the indexer's point of view, such as a book of travels, the price may be fairly profitable, but where, for instance, it is a biographical work containing many allusions to little-known persons and events a great deal of research work at the British Museum and elsewhere is required, and the indexer should stipulate for a special price.
Competition is certainly growing keener in this profession, owing to the fact that women are beginning to enter it in larger numbers, and prices consequently show a tendency to fall rather than to increase. Where very low prices are paid, however, it is generally because many firms do not require the very best work, and a really first-class indexer should have nothing to fear in the long run, although before she has acquired a reputation these prices may affect her earnings.
Great care should always be taken in the preparation of one's first index, as by that the beginner is judged, and if it is well done it is certain to lead to further commissions.
To make a successful indexer, as has already been pointed out, something more is required than technical skill at the work, for much initiative and energy and a certain business instinct are also needful.
If one is ambitious to reach the top of the profession it is necessary to a large extent to create one's own work by calling on Government and other departments and on private firms and suggesting to them ideas for the indexing of their various records or publications. There is plenty of scope for originality, as indexes must be made to suit the special needs of the case. It very often happens that a particular set of public records has remained unindexed simply because no satisfactory method of doing this has presented itself to the officials in charge.
Miss Petherbridge, who undertakes the indexing of the Government Blue Books, and has several other Government and municipal contracts, says that most of her commissions were obtained entirely by her own suggestions.
It is often wise for a woman who possesses great technical skill, but is not clever at obtaining work, to go into partnership with another woman who has the very qualities she lacks. In this way a good connection may be built up.
On the whole, then, it may be said that indexing offers good prospects, especially as openings are continually increasing.