Archives Technical Information Series # 78
Finding information in minutes can be a time-consuming process. Since minutes are filed chronologically by date of meeting but searched by subject, countless hours are wasted searching for a particular piece of information. The solution to this access dilemma is to index minutes to help users find the information they need.
There are two ways to improve access to minutes. The first way is to
develop an index using a database by reading the minutes, determining
the subjects within the minutes, and keeping a record of those subjects.
The second way to improve access is to use full-text searching software,
requiring the searcher to understand how to develop and refine a search.
The indexing of other kinds of records, such as personnel files or student records, is not addressed in this publication. These records are generally easier to access since they are indexed by objective attributes such as the name of a person. The guidelines in this publication, however, may prove useful for carrying out any indexing project.
The first step of indexing is to evaluate the minutes and determine the type of access needed to best fit the needs, habits and preferences of the users. Users’ needs can include searching by subject, searching by department or unit, searching by special features such as resolution number or name of personnel, searching past minutes, and the need for a printed index.
Particular features of the minutes can help determine which indexing technique to choose. The quantity of minutes as well as their condition, readability and format, will affect the time it will take to index and how much it will cost to complete the indexing.
When preparing to index, you must first determine the resources needed to conduct the project. Review available staff to determine if additional staff are necessary. Check existing software and hardware to determine if they are adequate to complete the project. Old indexes may exist which contain a master list of terms you can use in the new indexing project. It is also important to make sure there are sufficient funds for the necessary supplies, staff time and software to complete the project.
After determining what type of access to minutes is needed, carefully design an indexing project. Maintain consistency by indexing in the same manner, using the same subject terms and always indexing the same types of actions. Decide if you will use a traditional controlled index or full-text searching. Develop a preliminary master list of subject terms, which should include all the main subject terms and secondary subject terms in the index. Indexers should refer to this list to ensure they use only approved terms. Determine what you will index by deciding what actions in the minutes are important to your organization, and then determine what range of years to index. Determine the order in which you will index, whether indexing from the most recent minutes first and working backwards, or choosing a point sometime in the past and indexing forward from that point. The latter option will keep the indexer moving backward section by section, following the progress of discussions as they take place over time and providing the indexer with greater understanding of the context of the issues.
After designing a plan, it is time to begin indexing. Identify an important action within the minutes, such as an appointment, disapproval or report. After identifying the action, determine the subject in reference to the action. If two levels of subject access are useful, determine the more precise secondary subject of the action in question. Occasionally, you may need to index additional information on a certain action, and you can store this information in a memo field. You will need to collect other indexing information, such as date of the meeting, volume and page number, personal name, resolution number, and department or unit affected by the action. Verify the index as it is developed to check for errors and to make sure the use of subject terms is consistent and accurate.
The final step is to produce a minutes indexing procedures manual. The manual should contain the rules for making, using, and distributing the index. Writing down these rules as the index is being developed will ensure consistency by making sure everyone uses the same rules for indexing and searching the index.
To produce and maintain the best index possible, follow these tips. Maintain consistency, monitor the progress of the indexing project, back up any electronic data conscientiously, and migrate data as you upgrade software and hardware. Make indexing a routine process in your work schedule.