Current Awareness Strategy Blog

3 key takeaways from the London Taxonomy Bootcamp Conference

I had the opportunity to be a delegate at the first ever Taxonomy Bootcamp to take place in Europe. Drawing on the success of the event in the U.S. over the last decade, organisers brought regarded taxonomists from around the world to London to share knowledge, cocktails and cake with peers from the taxonomy community.

The event took place on the 18th and 19th of October at the Olympia Conference Centre in Hammersmith, West London. Despite not coming from a background of library science myself, I found the talks accessible and informative, and the taxonomists I met were friendly and eager to share their insights.

I came away from the event with many pages of notes, from talks from the likes of Mike Atherton, Content Strategist for Facebook; Patrick Lambe, who has many titles, including professor, president of the Singapore chapter of ISKO, and Principal Consultant at Straits Knowledge; and Heather Hedden, Senior Vocabulary Editor at Cengage, author, and in Patrick Lambe’s words, the Goddess of Taxonomy. My three key takeaways follow:

Taxonomy BootcampDavid Clarke from Synaptica, speaking about linked data

1. Agree policies to protect your work and the integrity of your design 

Agree policies with both the departments involved in your project and executive level decision makers at the outset of projects. This allows for mutual understanding, as well as giving you a reference point for resolving disagreements to do with terminology or processes at a later stage. This then provides a framework for your decision making as well as a frame of reference to help explain reasons for accepting some requests and suggestions from colleague, yet not others.

Jonathan Engel, consultant information architect currently working with InfoArk Limited, provided a great example of governing policy: The content in a project belongs to its respective department in the organisation, the organisation of this content is for the benefit of the entire business. It is difficult to imagine this kind of policy failing to gain executive level support!

Finally, to aid the creation of these policies, it is key to have an actionable purpose statement. Patrick Lambe presented several case studies from his consultancy work and explained that we can build knowledge management plans after we understand what problem we are facing, and what we are trying to achieve. To this end, we need to make the requests and needs of, and the exchanges between people transparent. We can then see what problem our tools need to address.

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2. Make yourself and your work known within your organisation in order to gain support 

Taxonomy, and really information science as a whole, is alien to most who are not in the field. In order for work to flow smoothly, and to gain support both from colleagues in the multitudes of other departments within the organisation, as well as executive level support, the information specialist must make themselves and their work known. Rachel Drysdale from PLOS (Public Library of Science) mentioned that she gives all new starters at her organisation a presentation regarding her department and their work, at the very beginning of their employment with PLOS, so that going forward they have an awareness and appreciation for her team and their work.

Similarly, many of the speakers mentioned the importance of executive level support and discussed how to approach governance. The key advice which I noted with regards to achieving this top level support is, once again, to communicate and teach the importance and value of taxonomy. Helen Challinor from the Department of Education summed this up wonderfully: Make use of your coffee loyalty card! Take the opportunity to communicate with colleagues and executives one-on-one and make sure you understand your users and stakeholders, and that they understand you.

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3. If it already exists, do not spend time recreating it 

The work of a taxonomist is very detailed, time consuming and precise. With that in mind, there are some areas where we can save time and effort by using existing controlled vocabularies. Robert Kasenchak from Access Innovations advised that standards compliance is key for interoperability, extensibility and consistency. You can use ISO authority files for countries and other standardised lists.

Synaptica offer a free online information resource all about taxonomy called Taxonomy Warehouse. Finally, Andreas Ledl of the University Library of Basel, Switzerland, presented the Basel Register of Thesauri, Ontologies and Classifications, in short BARTOC. This is a directory of Knowledge Organisation Systems (KOS) and registries, which is multilingual and interdisciplinary.

Aside from the wonderful advice, I enjoyed great food and had the chance to connect with others within the information management community from a number of countries, including the U.S., Germany, and Bulgaria. Many thanks to Helen Lippell for her excellent organisation of the event. I look forward to next year’s Taxonomy Bootcamp London, where I am sure I will see an even more diverse group attending.  

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