Taxonomies – Practical Approaches to Developing and Managing Vocabularies for Digital Information – Helen Lippell (Editor)

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. Helen brings not only many years of taxonomy development experience to the role but also a very strong commitment to ‘getting the message across’ as chair of Taxonomy Boot Camp London events.

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. Helen has succeeded quite brilliantly in this respect.

The book 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 if 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. The Foreword is written by Heather Hedden, the author of The Accidental Taxonomist.

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 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 the information community will be in debt to Helen, and Facet Publishing, for many years to come.

Martin White