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ASI San Diego: Workshops, welcome receptions, & a little art

April 21, 2012

Thursday was the day for pre-conference workshops at ASI’s annual conference, while more indexers arrived for networking receptions and the regular sessions to come.

The various workshop options to choose from were Taxonomy and Thesaurus Creation with Heather Hedden, Indexing in InDesign with Jan Wright, Crash Course in Book Indexing with Seth Maislin, Getting Started in Indexing with Madge Walls, and Double Posting and its Friends with Enid Zafran.

Decision time!

After considering the merits of the various workshops with my suitemate last night, I awakened with the decision to join Heather Hedden’s workshop “Taxonomy & Thesaurus Creation.”

I registered, grabbed some quick breakfast, and sat in her workshop for the day.

Heather Hedden points the way to the Land of Taxonomy.

While much of her discussion overlapped with her book The Accidental Taxonomist (which I purchased at the Minneapolis conference in 2010), her presentation was designed as more of an introductory course. It not only focused on taxonomies, but included other studies including thesauri and ontologies. All of the content I review here is based on Heather’s handout for the workshop, and I quote certain sections directly.

The handout for the day was very detailed and followed a PowerPoint presentation, which was very content-heavy and rolled out at a rather fast pace for my comfort (a very minor complaint). I liked the fact that many links to websites supporting taxonomies and related information were provided as examples to follow up on the back end of her presentation. Much of her content geared towards indexers, so many comparisons between indexing and taxonomies were provided.

For example, the choosing between A-Z or Categories was discussed. One example would be to use categories for websites to create thesauri — rather than having a web index.

Creating & Wording of Terms in Taxonomies

Unlike book indexes, there are no “double-posts” in taxonomies and thesauri; o must always choose a “preferred term,” except in synonym rings. Like indexing, with word choice in taxonomies (a controlled vocabulary) you want to consider wording of terms most likely to be looked up by intended users, and frame a consistency in style throughout the controlled vocabulary. Choosing a preferred term involves many considerations; such as “contracts” vs. “contracting,” or “foreign policy” vs. “international relations.” Part of the idea, when making these decisions, is to stay consistent.

The session included useful exercises to determine preferred terms. In a case of “Photography, digital” vs. “Digital photography,” the latter served as the preferred term due to the fact that inverting terms is not part of building a taxonomy. The decision for other terms involved easier decisions, such as choosing “Printers (people)” over “Printers for people.”

The William D. Evans, an operating historic paddle steamer visible through the conference room windows at Bahia Resort

Post-coordinated scenarios were covered; “Federal aid to higher education” could be divided into “foreign aid” and “higher education;” “United States-Russian relations” could be diverted to “U.S. foreign policy” and “Russian foreign policy;” “African-American women writers” could divide into “African-American women” and “writers” — having simply “women” as a term would be considered too narrow. “Plastic farm machinery parts” could divide into “Plastic parts” and “Farm machinery.”

To find out more, take the course!

As the afternoon went on, the room learned about subjects such as the many sources for terms with controlled vocabularies, and the application of non-preferred terms; for the latter, examples might include synonyms (using automobiles instead of cars), near-synonyms (middle school instead of junior high), variant spellings (defense instead of defence), and various modifications “Oil industry” to “Petroleum industry” or “Oil & gas business,” “Political campaign finance” to “Campaign financing” or “,” and “Aviation” to “Aeronautics” or “Flying.”

I’ve already revealed a snapshot of this workshop….Heather shared much more — a wealth of information was in her presentation. I’ll let you seek out more through one of her workshops. I hope you have the pleasure of attending one of her presentations in the near future, or seek out her book on the subject: The Accidental Taxonomist.


General events related to the conference proper started up Thursday afternoon with SIG and chapter leader meetings, an international representatives meeting, and a new member/first time attendee orientation.

The span of the stained glass ceiling (at a funny angle) in the William D. Evans

As I was attending the chapter leader meeting on the lower deck of the William D. Evans, the group and I (risking an innocent but potentially rude interruption of the SIG leaders meeting) went upstairs to the second level to take a look at the amazing stained glass ceiling. The piece, an interpretation of a southern plantation, stretched the entire length of the ceiling on the room.

From my experience in working with stained glass, this was an impressive piece; not painted, but put together by hand picking out colored glass pieces, cutting them, and using lead came to assemble a couple dozen panels. For those who don’t know, a glass array like this represents an unimaginable amount of work, intricate attention to detail, and patience….and that doesn’t include the challenges with the installation.

To finish the day’s events, the welcome reception took place for all the indexers in attendance at the meeting. A cash bar and small food nibblies kept everyone refreshed as they engaged in conversation with old colleagues, and repeat conference attendees introduced themselves to this year’s new faces.

First-timers, please contribute!

Speaking of which: first-timers, please contact me to contribute your thoughts on the conference to this blog! If you message me (see the contact page of the blog, located at the top), I can send you an invite to post. I understand that some might be shy about the idea of writing — so, for what it’s worth — this might be the perfect opportunity to test out your writing facility! So don’t be shy….I’m here to help and give advice.

Check it out, it's the Top Hat Indexer's top hat!

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  1. April 24, 2012 3:43 am

    It’s nice for to be able to read this and get a feel of the conference for those of us who couldn’t attend in the sister Society of Indexers in the UK


  2. Fuertes633 permalink
    April 26, 2012 10:05 am

    I’ve looked through 20 different sites reporting on tech writing-related events, and this for “ASI San Diego: Workshops, welcome receptions, & a little art” by The Penny Farthing Commuter is definitely the best. Thank you!


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