May 24, 2022

NISO’s New “Criteria For Indexes” Project to Bring Indexing Standard Up to Date

From the National Information Standards Organization (NISO):

Voting Members of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) have approved a new standardization project, Criteria for Indexes.

This work, intended to become an ANSI standard to replace the Z39.4 standard that was withdrawn in 1997, will provide a modern approach to guidelines for the content, organization, and presentation of indexes used for the retrieval of documents and parts of documents. NISO published TR 02-1997, a technical report entitled Guidelines for Indexes and Related Information Retrieval Devices, in 1997 as a replacement for the Z39.4 standard, Basic Criteria for Indexes, when consensus could not be reached on the standard’s publication. This technical report is now quite out of date and not suited for use in many electronic environments.

It is expected that the new working group’s output will provide advice for creating indexes that better fits today’s presentation and use cases. This working group will use the 1997 technical report as a starting point for its work, but it plans to create a new Z39.4 standard to include extensions and revisions to ensure it is current, including addressing indexing techniques, such as embedded indexing and indexes designed for electronic searching. A formal standard will also ensure better authority and wider industry recognition.

“We hope that publishers will be able to refer to the re-established NISO standard when they specify requirements for index creation for both print and electronic materials,” comments Marti Heyman, Executive Director, Metadata Strategy and Operations at NISO Member organization OCLC and a member of the NISO Information Creation & Curation Topic Committee, which governs the approval of the new working group. “End users of the published materials will therefore experience an increased level of uniformity of indexes, and this will drive improved consistency — and therefore effectiveness — of the end-user experience.”

NISO Associate Director for Programs, Nettie Lagace, mentions, “NISO is eager to modernize and re-publish one of our early standards, Z39.4. We are seeking broad representation from stakeholders, such as professional indexers, publishers, indexed database vendors, indexing tool vendors, and libraries, to ensure that the updated work has relevance to all of these audiences.” Those interested in participating in this Working Group should contact Lagace at

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.