“Analysis in Indexing: Document and Domain Centered Approaches”

Mai’s paper presents the reader with the idea of a domain-centered approach to indexing, as opposed to the traditional document centered focus. Indexing, as Mai uses the term, is the process of discovering the subjects of documents, then converting that into index terms which will be retrieved by searches. There are two different foci in indexing: document and user oriented. Document oriented indexing pulls subject information only from the document, and does not take any context surrounding the document into account. A slightly modified version of this is the document centered approach, which pulls from the document but does bear possible user queries in mind. Different from both of these, however, is the user centered approach, which focuses primarily on what will make the document meet user needs. The domain-centered approach increases this focus, basing its analysis of documents on its understanding of users. Mai notes that the simplest types of indexing are done in two steps: first, analysis of the document to find out the subject matter, then a translation of subjects into index terms. This study is directed towards making the first step clearer. With this goal, the piece continues on to a discussion of standards versus guidelines, stating that indexing must be somewhere between the two, as there can be standardization in the expression of subjects, but only recommendations in the determination of those subjects. Indexing guidelines point indexers towards sources of subject information, but don’t say exactly how to get information from them. As Mai points out, even if a book title (or table of contents, blurb, etc.) is pretty precise as to the book’s contents, there are several places it can be placed in the Dewey Decimal System, and it falls to indexers to decide where. This launches him into a discussion of changes in textual analysis theory, and the idea that textual meaning is formed by the reader and his or her context. He offers two definitions of context (the objectified and interpretive) and suggested both play a part in the indexer’s determination of domain. This finally brings the article to concentrate on domain analysis, which believes that the organization and representation of data should start with the analysis of the data’s context, which is contained in the domain. He notes that disciplines and specialties are too broad to functions as domains, which should rather be defined as “a group of people who share common goals” (606), such as a group of public library users. Once the indexer has examined the boundaries and needs of the domain, he or she is able to express the document’s subject in terms of the needs of the domain. Although the document centered approach is more stable, Mai feels that the most useful subjects can be derived from using the domain-centered approach.

Mai’s points are interesting and have some strength to them, although I very much doubt that the domain-centered approach will ever be put into effect. As it can only effectively be done locally, and it seems likely the subjects would have to be redone occasionally to keep up with changing user needs, the expense would be enormous. Apart from that, the article is well written, if inclined to be somewhat repetitious.