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A Brief History of the American Society for Indexing
by Peter Rooney
The history of the American Society for Indexing (ASI) must begin with the founding of the (British) Society of Indexers. SI’s founding father was G. Norman Knight, barrister and indexer, who sent a letter to the (London) Times, on 28 Dec 1956. “Sir: It is proposed to form a Society of Indexers ... If any of your readers who are interested will kindly communicate with the undersigned ... they will be sent particulars ...” He had been a freelance indexer for the previous thirty years, but was “not acquainted with a single other person who worked in this field.” In response “letters came pouring in.”
SI was inaugurated at a meeting in March 1957. As of January 1958, it had about 100 members, of whom 4 resided in the United States.
In March 1958 the first issue of SI’s official journal The Indexer appeared, containing congratulatory messages from the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan (of the Macmillan publishing family) and The Times (which stated “here is a necessary body if ever there was one”). The journal has continued publishing since then. In the first years, there are occasional notices from American members. John Askling and John Cook Wylie were titled Corresponding Members, and Robert Palmer and Theodore Hines contributed articles.
By 1967, at the 10-year mark, SI had 261 members. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Alan Greengrass (an SI member) and Mary Flad were pursuing library school degrees at Columbia University, New York City, under the mentorship of Dr. Theodore Hines, a professor at the library school. Feeling the need for a professional organization of indexers in the U.S., the group issued a press release which brought about a public meeting on 24 April 1968, chaired by Mary Flad.
By that time, SI had 31 individual members and 7 institutional members in the United States. Robert Palmer was Corresponding Member. He visited the UK in September 1968 to meet with officers of SI. Among topics of discussion were dual membership and terms of a formal affiliation.
The first formal board meeting of ASI was convened by Ted Hines on 18 November 1968. (This is ASI’s birthday, and official holiday.) The new society adopted the name the American Society of Indexers. At that meeting, Alan Greengrass was elected president pro tem, and Jessica Harris (Milstead) (another library student at Columbia University) became secretary. Robert Palmer drew up the ASI constitution, and was appointed ASI’s liaison with SI.
Soon after, Norman Knight wrote “The SI can but feel sincerely flattered ... We welcome the initiative shown by the American indexers...” ASI still retains ties with SI. ASI is formally a co-sponsor of the Indexer. There is also reciprocity of some membership benefits.
The first annual general meeting of ASI was held on 16 June 1969, at 7 p.m., at the City University of New York Graduate Center. About 75 persons attended. Since only a small number of mail ballots for the ratification of the constitution and for the election of officers had been received by the time of the meeting, it was decided by the assembly to postpone the counting of the ballots until more had been received. ASI had 146 members to date, but only 52 ballots had been received.
Among the many topics discussed at the meeting were: relations with SI; aims and qualifications of prospective ASI members; standards and remuneration for indexing; a newsletter; a register of indexers; educational activities; and an awards medal.
Later that year, the mail ballot ratified the constitution, all but unanimously, and officers were elected for the 1969-1970 year: a President (Dr. Charles Bernier); a Vice President (President Elect); a Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer, and six Directors.
ASI began publication of a Newsletter in 1970, edited by Alan Greengrass. In 1971 ASI published two Guidelines, on employment of freelancers, and on index evaluation. In October 1971, terms of affiliation between SI and ASI were agreed on. Territories of membership were delineated, with ASI given exclusive right of solicitation of new members in the United States and Canada. The Indexer was to be the official organ of both SI and ASI, though SI retained the prerogative of appointing the editor. Jessica Harris-Milstead became Corresponding Member to its editorial board.
ASI’s first all-day meeting was held in NYC in spring 1972. The officers in 1971-72 kept their places, and so served double terms until 1973. Again, the 1973-74 officers served double terms until 1975. Undoubtedly this made for continuity of policy. In order to put the membership list in a regular order, and to establish regular mailings, president Barbara Preschel appointed Peter Rooney to be ASI’s first executive secretary. Rooney used computer programs he had devised for the Modern Language Association membership list to maintain the ASI list. He received a stipend for these duties, during the period 1973 - 1978.
Annual dues were initially $10, raised soon to $15, and were prorated through the year. Official sponsorship was important. The following institutions were vital in contributing office support and officers: Xerox Corp; University Microfilms; The New York Times.
A revised constitution was adopted in 1974. The first ASI Register of Members, distributed to members and publishers, was printed in 1974. Other publications appeared, including a Survey of Indexing Courses compiled by James Anderson.
The annual meeting of 1976, held in Chicago, was the first meeting of ASI outside New York. The Chicago Chapter was the first regional chapter. In 1977, ASI membership stood at 327.
The Indexing and Abstracting Society of Canada was founded on 12 June 1977. The bilingualism of Canada was praised by John Gordon of SI, as giving “the possibility of moving out of the English-speaking limitations ...” By 1979, IASC (currently known as ISC/SCI) had 115 members. ASI therefore no longer recruits in Canada, although there are friendly relations between ASI and ISC, and occasional joint meetings.
Other national indexing societies have arisen: Australia/New Zealand (ANZSI) in 1972, Japan in 1989, China in 1993, and most recently, Germany, the Netherlands, and South Africa.
ASI established its H.W. Wilson Company Award for Excellence in Indexing in 1979. A cash prize of $500 was given to the winning indexer. The publisher of the index is also recognized. (The current name of the award is the ASI/EIS Publishing Award for Excellence in Indexing, and the prize amount is $1000). The first award went to Hans Wellisch for the index to his own The Conversion of Scripts. Wellisch continued to contribute to the field with many articles in The Indexer, and his later authoritative book Indexing from A to Z (1991).
ASI official news continued to be reported regularly in The Indexer. In 1983 this journal also began publishing synopses of the ASI Newsletter.
ASI celebrated its 15th birthday at its 1983 annual meeting, and it mourned the death of its founder, Theodore Hines. There were 490 individual and 5 institutional members, and 3 chapters. The 1983 Register listed details of 320 indexers.
Dorothy Thomas was president in 1983. At that time, ASI was basically a New York City organization. Thomas successfully promoted the expansion of ASI as a national organization, with chapters and conferences in various cities. This initiative was so successful that at present NYC area membership is only about 10% to 15% of the national total.
In 1984 Hans Wellisch was elected president. By his initiative ASI was reincorporated in Maryland, and constitution was also slightly amended. Later amendments have been approved, yet the basic framework is still that of the 1968 constitution.
In 1984 the Electronic Publishing Project (from which the SGML markup language originated) was set up, and ASI was designated a stakeholder. ANSI standards on indexing were developed with the participation of SI and ASI members.
In 1986 ASI had six chapters. The first 60 issues of the Newsletter (for 1970-83) were indexed. A Guide to Indexing Software was compiled by Linda Fetters.
The 21st annual meeting was held in San Francisco in 1989. Already the Golden Gate chapter had hosted a chapter meeting attended by 120 members and guests.
The 100th Newsletter appeared in 1990. The membership in 1990 was 776. ASI installed a telephone answering machine monitored by two volunteers.
ASI’s first online presence was in 1991, when Nancy Mulvany hosted on the WELL (Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link) an online conference on indexing, and an e-mail service.
In 1992, a permanent administrative office was established in Port Aransas, Texas, with Linda Fetters at the helm. Membership was around 1000. In 1995 it suddenly shot up to over 1300 after an article in Money magazine suggested that freelance indexers earn excellent livings. The resultant stress and expense to the administrative office caused the resignation of the officers, followed by the establishment of a new administrative office in Phoenix, Arizona. The office went online, and ASI established a web site on the Internet (asindexing.org).
The Newsletter was renamed Key Words in 1993. The “key” logo was adopted, and the motto “Indexers know where to put it.” ASI’s 25th anniversary was celebrated with a conference attended by all previous ASI presidents.
In 1994 the ASI board cast a “no” vote on the NISO draft standard on indexes, stating that the standard failed “to distinguish indexes from related information retrieval devices.”
In 1994, ASI set up the Theodore C. Hines Award, “to recognize that individual who has shown continuous, dedicated, and exceptional service to the Society”. The first award was presented to BevAnne Ross in 1995, a month before her death.
Volunteerism had always been (and remains) important to the running of the Society, but from time to time ASI had retained a part-time paid membership secretary. This proved unsatisfactory, since every time the secretary moved, or a new one was appointed, the official address of the society moved. In 1999, ASI president Sandi Schroeder realized that a professional management company would make life easier for ASI. A nationwide search was conducted for companies that specialize in serving as office staff for small organizations. The services of a management company include membership maintenance, mailings, and arranging of annual conferences several years in advance. ASI's management company supports ASI's officers and volunteers in carrying out their elected and appointed duties.
In 2000, the kohlrabi was humorously designated as the official vegetable of ASI (because in the words of Frances Lennie “no one knows who we are, or what to do with us”). The Order of the Kohlrabi, with its special gold pin, was instituted in 2003.
The name of the Society was changed in March 2008. This required an amendment to the ASI constitution. ASI’s name is now officially the American Society for Indexing (the acronym remains ASI). The stated purpose of the Society is to promote excellence in indexing, and to serve indexers and others concerned with indexing.
As of autumn 2016 the membership is about 450 individual members plus 4 institutional members. Current benefits to members include: chapters and SiGS; an email discussion group; a distance-learning indexing instruction course, inaugurated in 2006, based on SI’s successful course of many years; online learning courses; and webinars. .ASI, through its publisher Information Today, Inc., now has 17 books available in print, 16 of which are also in ebook format. A cumulated index (mashup) of the indexes to these publications is now available both online and as a PDF download. Members are entitled to purchase a listing in the Indexer Locator, a searchable database of indexers. Through its Digital Trends Task Force (DTTF), ASI is actively participating in the IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum), developing EPUB standards, in particular for indexes. In this way, ASI is committed to the future of indexing.
Note on sources
There have been other histories of ASI, notably:
- History of the Indexing Societies (7 articles in The Indexer), by Hazel Bell, covering the years 1958–1995
- "History of the American Society of Indexers", by Dorothy Thomas, in Indexing: The State of Our Knowledge and the State of Our Ignorance, ed. Bella Hass Weinberg (Medford NJ: Learned Information; 1989)
- American Society of Indexers: Oral History, Volume I, compiled by Dorothy Thomas, (c) 1995 by ASI
Many of the facts in the present article are compiled from official notices appearing in The Indexer from 1968 to present. The author conducted interviews with several of the earliest members; and borrowed invaluable early documents from Robert Palmer.
The archives of ASI are held at the University of Michigan, Special Collections Library, Ann Arbor MI 48109. An ongoing effort consists of organizing these files, extracting useful information from them, and setting up a program for future accession.
ASI contact information
ASI Administrative Office
1628 E. Southern Ave. #9-223
Tempe, AZ 85282
The appended chronology lists, for each year, the president, the official address of the society, and the location of the annual conference. Years given below reflect the date that a president assumed office at the annual meeting; terms end the following year.
ASI Presidents and Official Addresses
|Year||President||ASI Address||Annual Conference|
|1968||Greengrass, Alan||New York NY|
|1969||Bernier, Charles||New York NY|
|1970||Steiner-Prag, Eleanor||Ann Arbor MI|
|1971–72||Fall, John||New York NY (1972)|
|1973–74||Preschel, Barbara||New York NY|
|1976||Tsuffis, Mary Lee||Chicago IL|
|1978||Bartenbach, Wilhelm||Washington DC|
|1979||Heller, Bernice||New York NY|
|1983||Thomas, Dorothy||New York NY|
|1984||Wellisch, Hans||Washington DC|
|1985||Weber, Cynthia||Philadelphia PA|
|1986||Lipetz, Ben-Ami||Washington DC||New York NY|
|1987||Kemp, Thomas||New York NY|
|1988||Weinberg, Bella Hass||New York NY|
|1989||Mulvany, Nancy||San Francisco CA|
|1990||Billick, David||Chicago IL|
|1991||Witt, Diana||Minneapolis MN|
|1992||Fetters, Linda||Port Aransas TX||San Antonio TX|
|1993||McFadden, Thomas||Alexandria VA|
|1994||McGovern, Carolyn||San Diego CA|
|1995||Lindheimer, Elinor||Montreal Canada|
|1996||Blum, Ann||Seattle WA||Denver CO|
|1997||Nickerson, Alexandra||Winston-Salem NC|
|1998||Lathrop, Lori||Seattle WA|
|1999||Schroeder, Sandi||Phoenix AZ||Indianapolis IN|
|2000||Evans, Dick||Reston VA||Albuquerque NM|
|2001||Witt, Diana||Wheat Ridge CO||Boston MA|
|2002||Mertes, Kate||Galveston TX|
|2003||Lennie, Frances||Vancouver Canada|
|2004||Zafran, Enid||Alexandria VA|
|2005||Coughlin, Maria||Pasadena CA|
|2006||Maislin, Seth||Toronto Canada|
|2007||Weaver, Carolyn||Philadelphia PA|
|2008||Leise, Fred||Denver CO|
|2009||Mertes, Kate||Portland OR|
|2010||Lennie, Frances||Minneapolis MN|
|2011||Shrout, Richard||Providence RI|
|2012||Wyman, Pilar||San Diego CA|
|2013||Gravitz, Ina||Tempe, AZ||San Antonio TX|
|2014||Trantino, Charlee||Charleston SC|
|2015||Leise, Fred||Seattle WA|
|2016||Witt, Diana||Chicago IL|
|2017||Millis, Kendra||Portland ME|