Are Indexes Obsolete?

I’ve spent the last two days indexing our new book on Max Weber’s sociology. I am doing it the old-fashioned way, just as it has been done since, well, the 1990s or so. Which means I have a Word document open on my desktop and go through the document on a hard copy page by page, alphabetizing as I go. The only concession I have to the 2000s is that I will occasionally do a search of the electronic copy of the manuscript to find a key word in the PDF. But mostly it is yet another read-over of the manuscript itself, and alphabetizing into Word. It seems to take about 5 minutes per page. But, I just shudder at thinking what it must have been like to write an index before the invention of word processing!

I can imagine it is some kind of software that would do this for me in about two seconds. But as my author’s instructions point out, it is still better to have a real person, especially an author, do this because you also need to index themes, etc., that computers can’t “see.” So, ok, fine. But I really wonder, will indexes become obsolete with the availability of software that searches whole texts? In fact, I usually use such software, rather than actual indexes. You may have heard of the software I use to replace indexes, they are called “Google Books” and “Kindle!” But now as plow one last time through my book, I wonder about how many times I actually use an index anymore? What is your impression? Do you use books in the same way you did five or ten years ago? If you had our book on an electronic reader (as I suspect most readers will), would you use the index I am now writing?


Waters, Tony and Dagmar Waters editors and translators (2015). Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy and Social Stratification. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.