The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Do you still use a book index?

They are costly and time-consuming to prepare, and take up valuable pages in a print version.


Almost all books come with indexes in the back. These sections identify the most frequently-used words in the book, and list the pages those words appear on. Authors (generally) do not create these indexes. And the creation of an index cannot be fully automated. A person (known as an indexer) manually performs key searches. Then, the indexer decides how best to categorize groupings and variants of words. The process is time-consuming. Often, authors disagree with this categorization, which creates delays and friction. And if any edits are made to the book, the pagination changes, and the index has to be revised. The process is also expensive. Publishers will usually not pay for an index. Rather, authors have to pay for it–usually by drawing on future royalties. Finally, the indexes take up valuable pages. Generally, the longer a book is, the more it costs to print. For example, the index for our casebook is nearly 30 pages.

I wonder whether an index is still a valuable asset for a book–especially a casebook. Do you still use book indexes? I am not a good person to ask, because I only use electronic books. It takes a few seconds to search a book for the precise word I'm looking for. I can't think of any circumstance where I would actually thumb through an index. And let me ask one more variant of the question. Our casebook is sold with access to a free online version, which gives you a full-text-search. Do law students, with access to an ebook, still flip through the index of a casebook? I would think the Table of Contents, which sorts the cases by theme, is sufficient. Would anyone really jump to the index and look up the word "commerce" or "equal protection," for example?

If anyone wishes to opine, please email me.

Update: Readers really, really like indexes.