Indexes of Books, and Miscellaneous Sections of the Writings Not Yet Included Elsewhere Online
by Brett Zamir
1. Advantages to Having Indexes Online
2. Summary of Status of Indexes Online
3. Other Issues Related to Parsing Indexes for Future Database Use
Advantages to Having Indexes Online
It seemed to have been the common wisdom in early web development for the Faith that human-generated indexes would not be necessary as search engines (or concordance creators) could fulfill this role. However, there are actually a great number of uses for having these human-created indexes added.
1) Human-created indexes include synopses of a segment of the text which might be useful, but would not be readily found verbatim within the text itself. For example, an indexer might have categorized certain items as "Prayers of Bahá'u'lláh", but the prayer itself would not have included these words, and thus could not have been identified through a search engine without the assistance of a human indexer.
2) With the indexers focusing on (at least what they thought were) the most important or salient aspects of a book, an index, especially when rearranged (described below) can provide a more succinct synopsis of a book's content, than an automatic concorder (even than an "intelligent" concording program which recognized common human phrases as well as words).
3) As such, a well-designed database (or a script such as PHP working on XML/XSLT) of the Writings could retrieve all index entries for a given verse/page, and post them alongside the Writings, for the benefit of the viewer, providing--as many 19th century books seem to do--helpful paragraph summaries (or at least drawing attention to salient information within the paragraph in question).
4) Perhaps the most powerful application of having the indexes online, would be (especially if a good interface were designed to allow administrators and even the general public to add or edit entries) to categorize each entry of the index into a hierarchy of categories, thus providing (as does a "word menu" (or "reverse dictionary") for lexicons) a non-language-dependent means of navigating information about the Faith. Even more sophisticated ontological relationships between the categories could be added as time went on--facilitating searching as well as browsing (having implications also for an indepdendent system of tagging of the Writings (e.g., for entries not covered by the indexes), as well as for wiki sites, Jonah's onsite library, etc.
Thus, one could for example, pull up the "Sciences" index category, and then view links to all the pages in various books of the Writings that touch upon the sciences, including, if desired, its subentries such as "Biology", "Astronomy", etc., all without requiring the user to think on their own of all the subfields of science (or other synonyms by which science topics might be found), as this would have already been done for them (or at least could be an ever-improving, collaborative work in progress).
This technology would also be a helpful supplement to collaborative websites where the collaborative websites may not yet have matured enough to provide a comprehensive overview of all the content of the Writings (or, even if they did, the index would still probably provide a more succinct summary).
5) Such indexes could of course also themselves be searched (e.g., XQuery for XML, PHP on an SQL), and have the computer preserve (or add) alphabetizing within a book or across all books.
Summary of Status of Indexes Online
See bahai-library.com/zamir/indexes/ for a directory of indexes (and other sections, such as prefaces, forewords, introductions, appendices, etc.) which are not yet online elsewhere. This is only a temporary location, as it is my aim to add them later into a database or XML/scripting environment (specifically for an index database--the other sections referenced below such as prefaces, etc., not yet accessible elsewhere on this site, would be shuffled off to the appropriate section elsewhere onsite). (We are not 100% certain on the copyright of all of these items, and are in the process of checking, so please do not reproduce at this stage (unless you obtain the publisher's permission--if so, let us know too!); I normally would not post if there were a question about copyright (the current extra material in the special versions of the Writings, for example, sold at bookstores now are in fact not open copyright), but those included here have been around for a while, and were published in the Writings themselves (and are relatively short) and often by figures such as Hands of the Cause, I thought it may be ok to post them until we could find out for sure; also the World Centre may utilize these indexes as a base for further additional proofreading and tagging (see http://reference.bahai.org), so be sure to coordinate with us or them for obtaining the most up to date copies...)
This intent to add to a database (or the like) is also the reason why some of the files, though they do have tabs and carriage returns (which can easily be converted into HTML indents and line breaks), have not been optimized in the latter format for optimal web viewing. However, it would be easy to convert these files for regular HTML use (though again, once inputted into a database, there should be greater functionality than regular HTML can provide). The files are otherwise proofread and fully formatted. The following books from the Writings, compilations, etc. already have indexes online elsewhere (see here for these titles):
The following do not have any indexes present (at least in the editions I could find--please do contact me if you make a discovery to the contrary):
Other Issues Related to Parsing Indexes for Future Database Use
Books such as The Promised Day Is Come and Paris Talks may need adjustments made for correct pagination/paragraphing, respectively (when cross-referencing to the index) in order to refer back to the appropriate verse/section in our present online version. (In other words, parsing may need to include paragraphing as well as alternate pagination to accommodate the largest number of users (and to accommodate different referencing standards in the indexes, study outlines, etc.). This would be especially true and necessary if we could produce a database version that provided side-by-side commentary by paragraph and/or page.
When parsing the scriptures for database use (not only the indexes, but the entire book), we will need to verify that all sections are included. Though in most cases the single document paginated version will include most sections, this is not always the case so far (e.g., for Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the large document does not contain all the sections as referenced on the main page for this work).