I recently wrote an article on taxonomy management for the online magazine FreePint. By “taxonomy management” I mean taxonomy maintenance, governance, and long-term planning. I’m not going to repeat that article here, because you can look it up. The short version is available without a subscription: “The Care and Feeding of Taxonomies: Taxonomy Management.” In summary, in the long version I discussed:
- The reasons for managing a taxonomy
- The distinction between taxonomy development and taxonomy management
- The parts of an organization responsible for taxonomy management
- Factors in selecting a taxonomy management software system
- Components of taxonomy editorial policies
- Components of taxonomy maintenance procedures and a governance plan
Writing this article got me thinking about the role of taxonomy consulting in taxonomy management. As more and more taxonomies get created, over time, the need for new taxonomy creation may diminish, while the need for better taxonomy management increases. This should be good news for those in the taxonomist profession, especially for those who serve as in-house staff taxonomists. As for those of us who are taxonomy consultants, there is still a role, just a slightly different one.
The design and creation of a new customized taxonomy is an appropriate task for an external consultant because it:
- is a limited-term project that needs extra assistance while existing staff probably lacks the time
- requires a specialized skill that perhaps no one on staff has
- can benefit from an external point of view that is not biased, but can appreciate the perspectives of various users.
The ongoing maintenance of a taxonomy, on the other hand, is best suited for an internal staff taxonomist or information specialist, who:
- can be immediately responsive to changing needs or circumstances
- is familiar with the subject matter of the organization when it comes to additions or changes of highly specific taxonomy terms
- can devote at least a little time each day or week as needed, but the time can be flexible.
Consultants still have a role in maintenance. They can study the issues and write the taxonomy editorial policies, indexing policies, maintenance plans, governance plans etc. In fact, this is where taxonomy consultants really serve as consultants, and not merely as taxonomy designers and initial developers. Sometimes I think the designation of “consultant” is a bit of a stretch for someone spending most of their time actually building taxonomies. On all of my taxonomy projects, however, I also do provide advice and suggestions, so do some consulting all along. Taxonomy management, though, relies more heavily on actual consulting services.
Even though the needs of many organizations are shifting from taxonomy design and creation to taxonomy maintenance and revision, there exists a lot more information (books, articles, workshops, presentations, etc.) on taxonomy design than on taxonomy management. The relative lack of written sources on taxonomy management is another reason why a taxonomy consultant can be especially helpful. Finally, like taxonomy design, taxonomy management plans and procedures also need to be tailored to the circumstances of a specific organization.
When I create a taxonomy, I take a personal interest in it and hope that it will have a long useful life, so I want to create taxonomy guidelines and maintenance plans that are part of taxonomy management to ensure that my good work is kept up to date. If I don’t create an organization’s taxonomy, I am still just as interested in providing guidance for improving and maintaining what taxonomy exists, because my ultimate interest in taxonomies is seeing them get used and being useful.