Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Professional Association for Taxonomists

I recently attended the SLA annual conference, which this year was in Vancouver, BC, June 8 – 11. This year marked the 5th anniversary of the professional association’s Taxonomy Division, its newest and fastest growing special interest group. The Taxonomy Division plans the programming of all taxonomy-related sessions for the conference, enough sessions so that attendees interested in only taxonomies can find a session of interest for most of the programmed time slots.

The Taxonomy Division comes closest to a professional organization for taxonomists and provides a good networking opportunity. The founding of this Taxonomy Division five years ago was the reason that I joined SLA, since I am not a librarian. (I was an accidental taxonomist after all.) SLA stands for “Special Libraries Association” but the organization now favors the acronym over the name that it once stood for, and members are increasingly referred to as “information professional” or “info-pros” instead of librarians. This label better fits taxonomists. In addition to the annual conference programs, the Taxonomy Division also has bi-monthly webinars, a mentoring program, and other resources for its members.

A selection of half-day pre-conference workshops, called “continuing education” sessions, are an important part of the SLA annual conference, and this year two of the five such workshops were on taxonomy topics (“Introduction to Taxonomies” and “Taxonomy Integration: Content Management, Navigation and Search”) and were organized by the Taxonomy Division, despite the fact that SLA has 25 Divisions. Regular session topics included taxonomies and metadata, eDiscovery, semantics, SharePoint, and from-scratch taxonomy creation (my presentation).

Not only does the Taxonomy Division organize taxonomy-related conference sessions, but it also organizes networking events at the annual conference, including an informal no-host dinner and a more formal networking event that is part of the conference program. Both division members and anyone else interested in taxonomies are welcome to attend these events. There is typically a mixture of experienced taxonomists, who likely already know each other from previous conferences, and those new to taxonomies and would like to learn more.

The SLA conference is a great place for taxonomists to network and learn from each other, but it is not necessarily the place to hear the latest trends in taxonomies. “Current Topics in Taxonomies” was the title of an informal roundtable session, but its discussions were more about sharing experiences. At the four roundtables, with on average seven people per table, some of the discussions involved experienced taxonomists giving advice to the less experienced for specific taxonomy implementation issues. The latest topics or trends are not necessarily the subject of regular sessions either, since the program is planned close to a year in advance. On the other hand, the field of taxonomies is not one that changes that much year to year. It is rather business and technology trends that change.

If you are new to taxonomies, then the SLA conference is a great place to learn a lot, through both the various sessions and pre-conference continuing education workshops. If you are an experienced taxonomist then SLA is a great way to network with other taxonomists and get inspired to speak at future conferences. I am looking forward to speaking at SLA in Boston in June 13-16, 2015. See you there, in my home city!