“Going Old School” Part 2: Taking an Indexing and Abstracting Course

Going Old School Part 2: Taking an Indexing and Abstracting CourseImage Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Need some reading material to help recover from that crazy week in Vegas?

Well fear no more! The long overdue Part 2 of “Going Old School” is finally here! Previously, we informed you the reasons for considering a cataloging course. Hack Library School also had few more posts from another student’s experience and professionals in the field. Now we’re going to highlight some of the reasons for considering an Indexing and Abstracting course at your library school. Okay, before you click to see the latest kitten photo on emergencykitten.com, cute right? Just stick with me for a moment.

First let’s define the difference between indexing and abstracting. According to the ABC-CLIO Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science (ODLIS), indexing is defined as:

“The process of compiling one or more indexes for a single publication, such as a monograph or multivolume reference work, or adding entries for new documents to an open-end index covering a particular publication format (example: newspapers), works of a specific literary form (biography, book reviews, etc.), or the literature of an academic field, discipline, or group of disciplines.”

While abstracting is defined as:

“The preparation of a brief, objective statement (abstract) of the content of a written work to enable the researcher to quickly determine whether reading the entire text might satisfy the specific information need. Abstracting is usually limited to the literature of a specific discipline or group of related disciplines and is performed by an individual or commercial entity, such as an indexing and abstracting service, that provides abstracts regularly to a list of subscribers.”

To be clear, indexing has many forms. It could be the indexing of a journal or monograph (book) in a database or the back-of-the-book indexing that you might find in a textbook. In either case indexing utilizes terms or phrases as identifiers or tags to act as finding aids for a particular work. So now you’re probably thinking, okay, I think I get it, but how is this a potentially viable course for my library career? Well, I’m happy you asked.


You can make it into a freelance gig or even your own business, like the ones seen here on the Indexer Locator list of the American Society for Indexing. Many publishers look for people who can index their books. When time is of the essence, quick turn-around times can mean some green in your pocket.

Improved Search Skills

Indexing also helps you to become a better searcher. Every database requires some sort of controlled vocabulary and subject headings that provide the means to properly index content. If you understand the key terms (nouns) used to index journal articles, book chapters, and other knowledge objects, you’re already cutting down on your search time which can make just about any patron happy.

It’s Trending

Oh and because it’s what the cool kids are doing nowadays. Okay, they’re doing it, but they just don’t call it “indexing” they call it “tagging”. Yeah, that stuff you do on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are methods of indexing. We call it “hashtags”. And when enough people do it, they create “folksonomies”.

Web Indexing

Oh and because the main concept for indexing in library science is not that far off from indexing for the web. *Cough, cough*…Google. Do you want to get an introduction into how Google actually indexes the semantic web? Surprisingly, when I was searching the library literature for my indexing assignments, indexing the semantic web, ontologies, folksonomies all overlap between computer science and library science. We just look at it from different angles. We look at it from the perspective of the user and computer science folks look at it from the perspective of, well…the computer. An interest in indexing can help fill that gap and it’s a nice nod to librarians that we can be quite computer semantic literate too.

Taxonomies and E-commerce

E-commerce also loves people who know how to index. Ever been on Amazon looking at their list of shopping categories. It’s a taxonomy, another form of indexing and allows for easier searchability. What happens when people find what they need on an e-commerce site? They tend to buy it. What happens if you’re an expert in designing or improving upon such “taxonomies”? You tend to get hired.

Applicable Job Skills

Which brings me to my last point. Before I decided on this course, I ask a few librarian colleagues on Facebook what they thought of the cataloging and indexing courses. I learned of one person who found taking an indexing class instrumental to their first gig out of library school. Which happened to be as a librarian for the National Library of Medicine. How did it help? Well a lot of electronic resources used by NLM require indexing of resources into specific databases by subject matter, some are easier to browse than others, but you have to understand the mechanics of how the content is indexed in order to help others find the information they need. And this person had a direct benefit in taking the course AND getting hired.

Additional Resources

Want to explore some more? Check out the additional resources below. So have you taken such a course? Are you considering? Do you like making folksonomy word clouds like me? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Well known controlled vocabularies and thesauri:



5 replies

  1. I will say indexing also has a loaded meaning for those of us that work in the tech services side of the house. Indexing and indexes are how we build what fields are searched in a catalog, etc… the concept is touched on in this page: http://www.iii.com/services/proservices

    Also, there are other really well-used thesauri in the LCGFT:

    And the thesaurus for graphic materials:

    We recently completed a re-indexing project at my library, so it’s all fresh in my mind!


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