The joy of indexing

One of the most satisfying things I like to do is create indexes.  Crazy, I know. It involves reading old newspaper microfilm, taking notes and arranging them in alphabetical order.  I’ve done this off and on for more than 20 years at the city and capitol libraries.

It all began in 1988 when I took off for Seattle to spend a summer of writing and reading in a small room with kitchenette on Capitol Hill.  I soon began taking daily notes in one of those slender reporter’s notebooks.   The note-taking continued after I returned to Phoenix and the collection of notebooks grew.  I soon became exasperated when I couldn’t locate an item without a time-consuming effort.  That led to the creation of the Notebook Index which I keep in a computer file. 

That Index now is 71 pages in length.  And almost every note I’ve taken for two decades is at my fingertips. 

A few days ago, for example, I saw a film version of Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes A Great Notion,” and remembered I had attended one of Kesey’s talks many years ago at Phoenix College.  No problem.  I went through the Index and quickly found my notes of that day, September 15, 1995, in Notebook #41, page 41. 

It was also in 1988 that I started serious research on a long-forgotten historical event in old Arizona with hope of writing a book.   I started poring over microfilm of the Territory’s most informative newspaper of that era, the Arizona Miner, out of Prescott.  In the process, I compiled a huge index of the Miner, 1864-1880.   I kept those notes on 3×5 cards, bundled them by year with rubberbands and put them in shoeboxes.  I now have a grasp of early Arizona history like few others since these indexes were created chronologially and such things as relationships and precedents become in that case readily apparent.

At various times, I have also created Current Events notebooks from items I read in the newspapers or heard about on radio or TV.  Most of these notebooks are derived from local happenings I’ve found in the Arizona Republic.  Strangely there is no general index of the paper I know of.    And to get articles, you have to pay through the nose and still not know exactly what you’re getting.

My current indexing project is daunting. 

I am following a newspaper reporter at the Republic.  I not only attempt to jot down the date and location of every one of the reporter’s by-lined articles, I’m also indexing the names of every person mentioned in those articles, along with a brief description of that person and a citation referring back to an article on the by-line list.   That is not to mention, a selective general index of unrelated articles, editorials and photographs I’ve found interesting. 

The Names Index runs 38 digital pages, and the General Index is at 48.  And to think I’m not halfway into the project.

What is the purpose?  I’m not sure there is one.  Yes, I hope to write about some of the things in my indexes.  But more than anything, I just enjoy it.  To spend an hour or two behind a microfilm reader is relaxing, relaxing I think because it takes the focus away from me and whatever issues I may have going at the time. 

Whether there is ever going to be a small amount of money in it for me, that is immaterial.  I don’t care.  It keeps me off the street and away from grubbing for dollars.

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