All of the information on the internet needs to be organized, and the people doing that work are called digital taxonomists. Information professionals have long been the people responsible for categorizing, labeling, cataloging, and organizing information and managing knowledge – these hierarchies of categories that are used to classify information are taxonomies.
With the advent of the digital age and internet 2.0, there’s been an explosion of digital content and taxonomy functionalities have expanded greatly, building on traditional information sciences skills and theories to make digital information more searchable. Digital taxonomists are the people who make sure all that information can be found by the right audience.
What Does a Digital Taxonomist Do?
“A clear taxonomy keeps your content organized and allows your audience to easily find your content through either the navigation structure on your website (i.e. menu and content placement within the menu) or through onsite search (i.e. back end tags). Without taxonomy, your content is wasted because no one can find it,” stated an article on Medium about the role of a digital taxonomist.
Digital taxonomists and metadata or cataloging librarians employ knowledge management and organization based on the same information sciences theories, but the applications and environments in which they work can vary widely.
How to Pursue Digital Taxonomy as a Career
Taxonomy is often intertwined with metadata, knowledge management, and digital asset management (DAM), so acquiring expertise in these areas is a good idea for those who desire to go into this area of the information sciences field. The SIS master’s program covers various aspects of taxonomy, metadata, knowledge management and digital asset management in classes such as:
- INSC 521 – Cataloging and Classification
- INSC 524 – Metadata
- INSC 541 – Knowledge Management for Information Professionals
There are several other classes future digital taxonomists would benefit from taking depending on their areas of interest, which range from Information Architecture to Information Technology. User Experience Design (UX Design) intersects with taxonomy, and digital taxonomists will find themselves working with UX designers to ensure that design, information architecture, and the taxonomy of a website or intranet mesh seamlessly.
Where do we see Information Taxonomy in Everyday Life?
Perhaps the best way to relate digital taxonomy to everyday life is to look at how taxonomies play a role in interfaces with which most people are familiar. The Special Libraries Association notes that a good analogy for taxonomy is exemplified in social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, in the keyword tagging, hashtags, and shared locations because all of these allow “the user to explore links and relationships.” The major difference between these functionalities and taxonomy, however, is that taxonomy uses a controlled vocabulary and creates a structure to link together what may seem like disparate information.
One book that any potential digital taxonomist should make sure to read is “The Accidental Taxonomist” by Heather Hedden, which dives deep into this specific profession and field. Hedden also has an eponymous blog where she addresses an array of interesting topics related to taxonomy, for those who want to dig even deeper into it. She explains everything from the software used in digital taxonomy, to search engine optimization and taxonomies, and really gets into the weeds with all the intricacies of managing and maintaining taxonomy.
Who Are Digital Taxonomists?
SIS grad Laura Creekmore grew into the role of a taxonomist after years of being in what was (and really still is!) a developing field, learning information architecture, website structure, and many other aspects of taxonomy on the job. She decided to get her MSIS from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, because she wanted a degree to back up here existing skills and qualifications. What she ended up learning surprised her.
“Of course I learned all kinds of things. I learned all the theory behind what I was doing in practice, and it made me more knowledgeable about how and why I was doing what I was doing for my clients,” she said. “It was an incredible experience to have, and I look back on my studies and use the skills and knowledge I learned all the time in the work that I do. My work has continued to push into an ever more technical direction, and my MSIS degree serves me well in that pursuit.”
Now, Creekmore oversees a team of eCommerce taxonomists at Syndigo, and the team’s goal is to accurately represent their customers’ products online by capturing all of the information about each individual product and categorizing, standardizing, and recording that granular data.
In her book, Hedden sums up being a taxonomist as this: “The heart of being a taxonomist is dealing with concepts, figuring out what words are best to describe them, and determining how best to relate and arrange the concepts so that people can find the information they are seeking. The task requires a degree of logic as one must scrupulously analyze relationships between terms. It is neither entirely technical/mathematical nor entirely linguistic but a little of each.”
Kim Dority, who has spoken at several SIS Career Week events, written posts for the school, and author of the book, “Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals” interviewed Hedden for Infonista. In that article, “ Dority asks Hedden what type of characteristics a taxonomist should have.
Characteristics of a Taxonomists Include:
- Analytical skills
- Organization/categorization skills
- Language skills (dealing with words, concepts, and their meanings)
- Attention to detail
- Attention to user needs (as your goal is always to help users find information)
- Ability to work independently (often you will be the sole taxonomist)
- Ability to work with diverse people
- Communication skills (often to explain what taxonomies are and/or how they are to be used)
What types of digital taxonomist careers are available?
SLA lists off just a few of the environments where one can find digital taxonomists, including: government, international agencies, publishers, information providers, retailers’ search engines, consultancies, software vendors, and large corporations in any industry. SLA lists the salary for these types of jobs to range from $50,000 to $100,000 annually. Hedden adds in a few more: agencies and consultancies, taxonomy vendors, retailers, web search engines and online advertisers, and publishers/media industry.
Digital Taxonomists Salaries Typically Range from
$50,000 to $100,000
Digital taxonomy goes by many names, and Hedden provides a long but not exhaustive list of what you may run across during a job search for digital taxonomist jobs:
- Information Taxonomist
- Enterprise Taxonomist
- Nomenclature Taxonomist
- Web Taxonomist
- Content Manager/Taxonomist
- Taxonomist And Content Architect
- Taxonomist/Business Semantics Lead
- Taxonomist/Information Architect
- Taxonomist/Project Manager
- Taxonomist Program Manager
- Director Of Taxonomy
- Manager, Search And Taxonomy
- Taxonomy Analyst
- Taxonomy Consultant
- Taxonomy Architect
- Taxonomy Developer
- Taxonomy Manager
- Taxonomy Specialist
- Content Strategist
- Controlled Vocabulary Editor
- Digital Asset Librarian
- Digital Asset Manager
- Digital Asset Manager
- Enterprise Architect Manager
- Information Architect
- Information Management Coordinator
- Knowledge Manager
- Metadata Architect
- Metadata Librarian
- Search Analyst
- User Experience Architect
In her book, Hedden says taxonomists usually have varied backgrounds and experience, including in information sciences, information technology, and business backgrounds. In fact, many people – such as Creekmore – have found themselves doing digital taxonomy work as part of their jobs as the field developed, hence the name of Hedden’s book. But, Hedden notes, most taxonomy jobs are not entry level and the most direct way to enter the field is through completing an information sciences program. They may find themselves moving around from one industry to another, as their skills are very transferable – fields such as the medical, pharmaceutical, and scientific/technical publishers are industries that require more specific expertise and knowledge.
Hedden suggests those interested in taxonomy look at joining special organizations such as the American Library Association, the Special Library Association, and the Association for Information and Image Management International. Within the first two there may be specific groups taxonomists can join that focus more on their field.
Hedden, Heather. Accidental Taxonomist, Information Today, Inc., 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central