Taxonomies – Practical Approaches to Developing and Managing Vocabularies for Digital Information – Book review

There is probably no more difficult task in information management in being the Editor of a multi-author on any topic, and the level of difficulty goes up by an order of magnitude when the topic is taxonomy management. Taxonomies (and the strap line Practical Approaches to Developing and Managing Vocabularies for Digital Information) has been edited by Helen Lippell, who brings not only many years of experience to the role but also a very strong commitment to ‘getting the message across’. In this she succeeds brilliantly.

Helen has brought together eighteen experienced taxonomy managers with the objective of offering a range of insights and perspectives on taxonomy management. The scope is so broad, and yet so deep in specific topics, as to demand a careful balance of the viewpoints of authors coming from an equally wide range of backgrounds and project experience. This book deliberately focuses on presenting case studies which can be of value in specific situations but also add to a more generic knowledge base about good practice on taxonomy development and implementation. These include Associated Press, Cancer Research, UK Department of Education, Electronic Arts, Getty Images, the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, and the National Health Service.

The sixteen chapters are grouped into four sections, covering Getting Started, Building Taxonomies, Applications (I was delighted to see a chapter on Enterprise Search!) and Business Adoption. glossary

As well as a very thoughtful introduction to the scope of the book Helen also provides a brief commentary at the start of each chapter that indicates why the contributor has been chosen (and they have obviously been chosen with care!) and what insights they bring to the reader. Although many of the authors work in the UK there are also contributions from authors based in the USA and the Netherlands. The style of writing is very consistent and clear though the layout of some of the indented lists of terms, bullets and numbers (inevitable given the subject matter of the book) can be a touch challenging.

There are also three very useful appendices providing a template for metadata term diversity capture, a brief walk through the semantics of ontologies and taxonomies and a glossary.

My only disappointment was a lack of further reading. Finding good research papers and theses is very difficult in taxonomy management because if you just search Google for ‘taxonomy’ you immediately get overwhelmed with the sciences of botany and zoology!

Effective taxonomies make such a significant contribution to information discovery and management that it is difficult to think of a business case for not investing in this book. The entire volume is a triumph of coordination and cohesiveness on what is probably one of the least understood and underappreciated elements of information management, and we will be in debt to Helen, and Facet Publishing, for many years to come.

Martin White

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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