Taxonomist Survey

In keeping with the title of this blog, it’s time to check in again to learn more about who taxonomists are and what they are doing. I conducted a survey of taxonomists (promoted through discussion lists, groups, and social media) in 2009 to gather information for my book, The Accidental Taxonomist, and again in 2015 for its second edition. I compared the results over those 6 years in a prior blog post, Taxonomist Trends. Now I have republished the identical taxonomist survey from 2015 on the SurveyMonkey platform at the start of this month January 2022, and have already gathered more responses than the 150 who responded in May 2015. So, I can provide a peak at preliminary results of a couple of questions, although the survey will remain open until January 28.

Preliminary responses

Following are the preliminary responses from questions 1, 4, and 5.

1. To what extent do you create and/or maintain taxonomies or other controlled vocabularies? 

My primary job responsibility55.48%86
One of my job responsibilities, but secondary16.77%26
Manage taxonomists or taxonomy projects, while also doing at least some taxonomy review work11.61%18
A special project, not in my job description or an originally expected responsibility7.74%12
Work done as contract/freelance often4.52%7
Work done as contract/freelance only occasionally3.87%6


4. What is your current employment situation? 

Employee of an organization that uses taxonomies primarily internally, for its website, or in ecommerce62.75%96
Employee of an organization that incorporates taxonomies into an information product or information service, which it sells/offers15.69%24
Employee of a company or agency that provides taxonomy services or custom taxonomies to clients5.88%9
Independent contractor or freelancer (obtaining work primarily through subcontracting, agencies, other third parties, or as a temp employee)9.80%15
Consultant or business owner/partner (obtaining work primarily from direct clients)5.88%9


5. If you selected either the first or second response in question #4 (if you are an employee but not in consulting), where do you fit into your organization?

Content management/content strategy19.44%21
Documentation/technical writing1.85%2
Knowledge management25.93%28
Product development/product management19.44%21
User experience7.41%8
Other (please specify)


Survey Questions

Following are the rest of the questions

2. How long have you been doing work on taxonomies or other controlled vocabularies?

  • Less than 1 year
  • 1-2 years
  • 2-4 years
  • 4-6 years
  •  6-8 years
  •  8-10 years
  • 10-15 years
  • 15-20 years
  • Over 20 years

3. How long have you been doing work specifically called “taxonomy”?

  • Less than 1 year
  • 1-2 years
  • 2-4 years
  • 4-6 years
  • 6-8 years
  • 8-10 years
  • 10-15 years
  • 15-20 years
  • Over 20 years

6. What is your job title?

7. What degree(s) do you hold?

  • Less than a BA/BS
  •  BA only (4-year college)
  • BS only (4-year college)
  • MA
  • MS/M Eng.
  • MBA
  • PhD/doctorate
  • Other advanced degree

8. What is your study or training specifically in the field of taxonomy or classification?

  • Concentration/specialty within a degree program
  •  Two or three college/university credit courses (but not a specialization)
  •  One college/university credit course
  • Continuing education course or workshop
  • Conference or professional seminar workshop
  • On the job formal training
  • On the job informal learning and experience
  • Self-taught through reading

9. Prior to your work in taxonomies, which best describes your professional background?

  • Content management/Web content/Content strategy
  • Database design, development, or administration
  • Document management
  • Indexing
  • Knowledge management
  •  Librarian
  • Marketing/Sales
  • Project management
  • Records management
  • Software/IT
  • User experience/Information architecture
  • Writing, editing, or publishing
  • None/Student
  • Other (please specify)

10. In your current position, what are your primary taxonomy-related activities?

  • Design/model new taxonomies or other vocabularies, determining structure type and policies
  • Based on an established model, develop and build out new taxonomies or other vocabularies
  • Edit, update, or maintain taxonomies or other vocabularies
  • Map (such as crosswalks), merge, integrate, or restructure existing taxonomies or other vocabularies
  • Write auto-categorization rules for taxonomies or other vocabularies

11. What software do you primarily use to work on taxonomies or other controlled vocabularies?

  • Commercial, dedicated thesaurus/taxonomy/ontology management software
  • Open-source, dedicated thesaurus/taxonomy/ontology management software
  • Commercial software, of which taxonomy management is a feature, module, or component
  • An internally developed thesaurus/taxonomy management system
  • Other commercial software not intended for taxonomies (such as a word processor, spreadsheet, or database management software)

12. Which of the following describes the implementation and use of taxonomies or vocabularies you work on?

  • For content organization, search/findability, and retrieval by internal users (employees)
  • For content search/findability and retrieval by external users (customers, subscribers, members, partners, prospects, patrons, the public)
  • For both internal users and external users

13. What is the size of the controlled vocabularies you typically work on?

  • Under 50 concepts per vocabulary
  • 50-100 concepts
  • 100-500 concepts
  • 500-1500 concepts
  • 1500-5000 concepts
  • 5000-10,000 concepts
  • Over 10,000 concepts

14. How are your current taxonomies/vocabularies linked to content?

  • By manual tagging or indexing
  • By auto-categorization/auto-indexing
  • Some of each
  • Don’t know

15. Are you familiar with and generally try to follow any of the following national or international standards: ANSI/NISO Z39.19 (2005) Guidelines for Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies and ISO 25964 Information and documentation—Thesauri and interoperability with other vocabularies?

  • Don’t know these standards and thus don’t follow them.
  • Have read at least some of these standards, but don’t follow them.
  • Generally, keep these standards in mind and apply what is relevant, but not strictly.
  • Attempt to follow these standards closely and refer to them as needed.

16. What do you enjoy about taxonomy work?

17. What are pain points or challenges in your taxonomy work?

18. How did you first get started doing taxonomy work?

More results may appear in future blog posts, but the full results will be published in The Accidental Taxonomist, 3rd edition.

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