I’m thinking about indexing my life. It might help to keep things organized, don’t you think? One of those odd disconnects that a biblical studies editor faces is the discipline’s love of indexes. I have volumes on the shelf behind me right now that have five or more indexes. You can look up subject, author, biblical citation, non-biblical citation, and even for some, places mentioned. The thing is such books were produced before the internet. If you’ve read a few of my posts you know that I’m no fan of ebooks. I like a book in my hands, and a book, in my definition, is made of paper. Still, I do occasionally look things up in an index. If at all possible, however, I try to find an electronic copy so I can type what I’m looking for in the search box and come up with the exact reference. In this I’m not alone.
A great deal of my editorial time is spent trying to explain this to other biblical scholars. In the post-Covid world academic libraries are going to be closed for quite a while. They’ll likely increase their electronic holdings while cutting back on paper books. When someone wants to look something up, they’re not going to scroll to the index and scroll back through countless pages to find it. They’ll use the search function. That’s what it’s for. So it goes. When I index my life, the early part will be all about looking things up manually. The latter years will be searchable. To be fair, I would’ve never come to know this if it hadn’t been for working in publishing.
Indexing points to milestones. Earning a Ph.D. from Edinburgh was one, I suppose. For a guy who grew up with ambitions to be a janitor, that’s something a little different. Some things I’m not sure how to index. The abrupt transition from professor to not-professor, for instance. What are the keywords you’d put down to search for that? Or the part about being treated like a lackey by former colleagues? I guess that’s not really a milestone anyway. Besides, it’s in the internet half of life, the searchable bit. The earlier years, many biography readers note, are the most interesting. They set us on a trajectory that we type up in our curricula vitae. When I write my fiction the characters are often janitors. Unless I put my pen-name in the index nobody will ever know. Of course, I haven’t got to the last chapter yet.