“The trouble with books is that they don’t have the equivalent of a search engine.”

That at least was what I was told recently, and the statement took me a bit by surprise. Indeed it took me a good five seconds to come up with my riposte, which of course was, “Yes they do. It’s called an index.”

Indexes generally are better than search engines since indexes tend to be generated by humans with content and context in mind.  Indexers and authors generally only put into the index words and phrases that people might be searching for in relation to the topic of the book.

A book on the Antarctic might index bases, weather conditions, minerals, life, glaciers, mountains, etc.  You wouldn’t expect such a book to include in the index a mention of the songs that refer to Antarctica in their lyrics – unless you were really making that a significant part of the book. If the songs are mentioned in passing you might index “songs about Antarctica” but nothing more.

So books have the value of being more selective and more specialist than many websites, and their indexes and contents pages reflect this.

Which leads me on to the fact that when storing materials in a facility such as Admiral’s, it is always worth placing a general note as to the contents on the front of each box, and then a more detailed index either on the side of the box, or at the start of all the paperwork.

That might seem a fairly obvious ploy, but you would be surprised how many companies find it can take them a little time to locate the relevant box and all because they have not indexed their property properly.

Imagine for example a collection of boxes containing the printed versions of invoices. Having been told to label each box a helpful employee has written 23645-23971 and so on – in other words indexing the boxes by invoice number.

And obviously this is fine if you always know the invoice number. But there might be an occasion in which you want to find some invoices for a certain date. You might look at a box at random, and from that work out roughly what invoice numbers would have fallen on that date – but that still requires a lot of taking a box down, investigating it, and then putting it back up again.

Indeed indexing your items in storage is perhaps one of the most vital elements of having large amounts of paper in store. You really need to be forward thinking.

But suppose you did not see an eventuality upon which you now have to search, and you find your indexing is not sufficient for a particular search.  

I have come across several companies that have found this difficult, and in each case they have been forced to go back over their storage, searching box after box to find the box they want. 

Of course there is no way around it – but what they should then do is instruct those who place the boxes in storage, and everyone who actually accesses the storage, to add this extra detail to the index. It doesn’t mean that every box becomes properly indexed at once, but it does mean that gradually more and more boxes will have this extra index attached to them.

People started indexing books about 500 years ago. People started optimising websites so that they appear at the top of Google’s rankings in the 1990s. Neither indexing of printed pages nor of web pages is perfect, and a lot more thought than you might imagine is required in each case.

And if you do have to index some stored material bear this in mind: content and context are the key words.

There is more information on our document storage facility at www.archive-document-storage.co.uk/

Alternatively give us a call on 0800 783 9516.

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