May 2010

Kate Mertes

May 2010




I stand before you a miracle of modern science. I woke up one morning in April with a fever and a terrible pain in my side, after having been fine the night before. I was rushed to hospital, passed out in the emergency room, was scanned and scoped every which way to Sunday, and then early the next morning had my appendix removed, through three microscopic incisions sealed up with superglue. The next day I was home, with virtually no restrictions on my diet or activities. I’m all healed up now. Even ten years ago, I might have ended up with a week in the hospital and a seven-inch scar. Isn’t that amazing?

It reminds me of my first experience of indexing software. I had just started working in the indexing department of a legal publishing company, and we thought we were the hot nuts, with our IBM selectric typewriters and our perforated strips of index cards. We could index around 100 entries a day, and spent the last quarter alphabetizing. Around 4pm you could hear people singing "A, b, c, d, e, f, g..." under their breath – by that time of the day nobody could remember if k came before or after j. Then we got our first software package — and we went from doing 100 entries a day to 500, in the course of a week. It was an astounding leap forward. We became faster and more accurate at our jobs almost overnight.

Of course, along with that advance came new pressures. We were expected to produce a lot more material, at a lower cost, with a higher accuracy rate. We saw the pace of our lives get faster without a major shift upwards in our incomes. The people who had typed our cards up into indexes had to find other jobs. Progress is a marvelous thing, but there’s usually a barb in its tail, as well.

As I finish my term as ASI president for the second time, I’m wondering what the next major shift in our industry will be. After software, the Internet totally revolutionized many aspects of how we do our jobs. I suspect ebooks will eventually do the same. I’m excited to see what will happen, and I’m keen to see how ASI will move forward as an organization.

Table Talk: ASI is very much a member-driven organization. So it’s appropriate that, on Wednesday, the 12th of May, in Minneapolis, before our annual conference blasts off, that we make space for our members to consider some critical issues that are facing us in the next year. I’d like to invite anyone who will be in Minneapolis on the 12th to gather at our conference hotel around 2.30 – you can find out exactly where we’re meeting from the folks at the


table – for what we’re calling Table Talk. The Board will have prepared three posters and sets of handouts for three different issues that we really, really, really would benefit from member input on. We’d like anyone who can to gather and discuss these issues, and after an hour or so report back to the board (which is meeting on Wednesday) as to their recommendations.


Two table talk issues deal with the position of president. How long should the president’s term be? And what sort of qualifications should we require of the president? Currently the president serves one year (in between being president-elect and past-president), and many of us have found that we barely get started before we’re finished. Many of the things we’d like to accomplish need more time than we have. But should be lengthen the presidential term? And if so, how might that work?

We have problems getting people to serve as ASI officers, and presidential candidates are particularly difficult to pin down. The process is somewhat hampered because currently potential presidents must have served on the national board in some capacity, which limits the pool of candidates. Should we change that qualification? Or is it too important to pass up?

Finally, after sterling service, Leoni McVey is stepping down as overall chair of publicity and marketing, and we’ve yet to find a replacement. So this is a good time to have members do some brainstorming over the goals of this committee, and to mull over some concrete suggestions as to future activities.

And if none of those appeal to you, if something else is really buzzing around in your head right now, why, come along and form your own discussion group and make a presentation to the board. Those of us who’ve come through the Information Revolution of the past twenty years know that it’s important not to just adapt to change, but to try to anticipate it. Working together to keep our profession and our organization moving forward is one way to stay on time’s freight train.

Kate Mertes, President, ASI