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Devotees of human indexing (see, for example, Dennis Duncan, Index, A History of the) might want to try looking up a place in index of the Pevsner Architectural Guides to Scotland, specifically, the volume for Dundee and Angus (by John Gifford, 2012). I don’t know how many volumes of the Pevsner Guides (“Pevsner” for short) I have bought, but it represents a substantial portion of my book buying, and the indexes to this series are, if anything, getting worse.

I was in Dundee last week visiting the fascinating Verdant Jute Works – an industrial museum that shows a fundamental part of Dundee’s history. Foolishly, I tried to find any reference to the Jute Works in the Dundee volume of the Pevsner Guides.

Some volumes of this series have a separate index for major places, such as Cambridge, which has a distinct self-contained section for the city of Cambridge, in the volume for Cambridgeshire. Dundee has nothing of the kind. Although the Dundee entry takes up around a third of the volume, entries for Dundee are indexed with the body of the content. In principle, that should be simpler – I’m a great advocate of a single index of everything in the book, but this index is not A-Z. Instead, Dundee is indexed thematically, by district. In the Introduction, the Verdant Jute Works is mentioned as being “just W of Dundee’s city centre”.  But which district is west? Dundee is organised into eleven districts, of which the city centre is one. Which district is the Verdant Jute Works in? You only find out about the eleven districts that Pevsner has assigned to Dundee on page 77, at the start of the Dundee section. There is nothing on this page to tell you that there is a map of Outer Dundee on page 184-185 (the maps are listed on page xi, but you wouldn’t know this from the entry for Dundee). By looking at the map, you can guess, after a moment or two, that the area just west (or W) of the centre, where the Verdant works appears is called “Logie”. Only at this point can you start using the index. Without any knowledge of the relevant district, you will never find the Verdant Works. This is a classic example of the index to a book only functioning if you know the place you are looking up. In the end, a day after visiting the Verdant Works, and I was back at home, I found the relevant section.

It seems a bit unfair to the compilers of the Pevsner Architectural Guides to point out that a full-text index, and a digital edition, could have saved me many minutes to find just one entry. Microsoft Word could have produced a better index. Using the existing book, here is a guide on how to find the Verdant Jute Factory: it’s on page 266. Or just remember to look in the index under “Dundee”, then “Suburbs South of Kingsway” (if you are looking at the body of the text) or “Dundee outer areas (if you are consulting the index), then “Logie”, then “Industrial Buildings”. Simple, really – I won’t have any problems next time. Oh, and the Verdant Works is well worth a visit. Just don’t waste any time trying to find it in Pevsner before you go.