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Fifty-Seven-Year Index, Sierra Club Bulletin, 1893-1949

Fifty-Seven-Year Index, Sierra Club Bulletin, 1893-1949, compiled by Dorothy H. Bradley and George Shochat. 138 pages. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1952.

An index to anything is a godsend if done tolerably well, and these indexes are. They make these periodicals come alive, and save time and frustration for many searchers. Indexes of climbing journals are usually labors of love rather than professional jobs, and so not to be criticized too closely. Some casual checking not only showed up no important errors or omissions, but gave me the feeling that, as indexes go, these are excellent. I say “as indexes go,” for indexing is a difficult business and subject to limitations. Really complete indexing costs too much. The compiler has to decide what to omit and hope his decisions will annoy the few rather than the many. Numerous items can properly be entered under any of several different catchwords. The compiler must pick one and hope the majority of users will do the same.

As examples of what one finds in indexes the following may be noted. In the Sierra index, of a climbing party of four, three names are entered, one is not; in a botanical article the names of certain flowers are entered, others not. In the Appalachia index an article on trail signs appears under “White Mts.—Trails,” and under “Trail Construction,” but not under “A.M.C.—Trail System,” while an article on trail bridges appears under the two last but not the first; a discussion of the expression “to hike” appears under “Camping and Tramping—Terminology,” with no reference from “hike.” I mention these only to show that even indexes as good as these are not perfect.

A rough estimate indicates that, while the number of pages in the two series of volumes is not far from the same, the Sierra index takes about 10,000 6-to 8-word lines of print to do the job, and the other about 16,000 8- to 10-word lines. This checks my impression that the Appalachian job is more thorough. It clearly was planned with care in every detail, sparing no effort to make it accurate, consistent, and easy to use in spite of its formidable extent.

In the following comparisons “S” means the Sierra index, “A” the Appalachian index. S uses larger type, which looks better, is easier on the eye—and costs more. S uses 22 pages for tables of contents of all volumes, which seems a needless waste of money. A indexes titles of articles as well as authors and subjects, but S does not, which seems a mistake. A runs everything in one alphabet, except that book reviews, portraits, obituaries, and the A. M. C. form large blocks of their own in their place in that arrangement. S uses four alphabets, one each for authors, book reviews, personal names, subjects. I think this latter method makes for easier use, but others may not agree. Some large libraries have sensed this and separated their huge, confusing card catalogs into two alphabets, one for authors and titles, the second for other subjects, and the system seems to work well. S runs its sub-heads alphabetically, A chronologically. It’s a toss-up.

So many indexes are unsatisfactory it is a pleasure to find these two so good. Their compilers are worthy of high praise for laborious and useful jobs well done.

N. L. Goodrich