Thursday, June 4, 2015

Taxonomist Trends

Last month I conducted an online survey of 150 taxonomists (described in my last blog post). Although the results of which will be used in another publication, it is interesting to note at this time a few comparisons between the results of this survey with a similar one I had conducted in late 2008 for my book, The Accidental Taxonomist. While I added further questions this time, some of the questions stayed the same for comparison.

We would expect over time that more taxonomists have been doing the work for longer. While this is the case for those in the field for 8-15 years, for those involved in the longest period, over 15 years, surprisingly, the survey results did not indicate this. Those who have done taxonomy work for 15 years or more were 26.2% in 2008 but only 17.6% now. The raw numbers, however, for over 15 years did, in fact, increase. So, the survey percentage indicates that there are proportionally more people who have been involved in taxonomies for an intermediate period of time. At the most beginner level, the numbers and percentage of respondents with less than a year of experience in taxonomies declined, from 9.2% to 3.4%. Those with 1-4 years of experience are about the same, and those with 4-15 years of experience increased from 32.4% to 41.2%. So, these numbers could indicate a maturing of the taxonomist profession, but not a graying of the field.

Trends in taxonomist work situation has not changed much with respect to it being a primary job responsibility vs. secondary and with respect to freelance vs. full-time employed. There was a noticeable difference, though, among those who are freelancers (totaling 17% before and 16% now), that more of them are now doing freelance taxonomy work only “occasionally” compared with before,  8% now compared with 4.7% in 2008, and not as many are doing it “often” as before, 8% compared with 12.5%. The fact that there is work for those who want to do freelance taxonomy work only occasionally, whether on top of another job or in combination with other kinds of freelance work is encouraging for those individuals who want to gradually break into taxonomy work.

Regarding the professional and educational background, the leading degree and prior profession of taxonomists today remains that of librarian, and the percentage has, in fact, increased slightly. Meanwhile, those with a technical background have proportionally decreased.  The percentage with an MLS/MLIS degree increased from 48.4% to 54.4% of respondents, and for the options of prior work experience, “librarian” increased from 27.7% to 28.3%. Those with an M.S. or M. Eng. degree decreased from 14.1% to 8.7%. Those with a background in Software/IT decreased from 12.3% to 8.3%, and those with a background in database design, development, or administration, decreased from 6.2% to 1.5%.  While the taxonomy field can certainly benefit from those with a technical background, it is not a necessary skill, and we might assume that fewer IT people in taxonomy work since 2008 might be due to an improvement in the economy, whereupon more of those people have found work in IT again.

In other areas, knowledge management, content management, and content strategy are backgrounds that have become more common, whereas “document management” has decreased. This is likely due to the fact that “content” of various formats is becoming more common than mere “documents.” Digital asset management was not even presented as an option, but three respondents wrote in the blank under “Other.”

Despite the preponderance of MLS/MLIS graduates, still only a minority of respondents had training in taxonomies/classification in college courses, and only a few percentage points more than before, merely reflecting that there were more MLS/MLIS graduates. Those having taken continuing education courses or workshops on taxonomies increased from 13.8% to 20.1%, but there are more such course that did not exist before (including mine). On-the-job training remains the primary means of learning how to create taxonomies. There has been a slight increase in on-the-job “formal” training over “informal” learning and experience, with the percentage with formal on-the-job training having increased from 21.5% to 28.9%.  Since this particular survey question permitted multiple responses, the leading response of informal on-the-job learning was 71.1%, but this was the only response option with a decrease (down of 83.1%). This is a good sign that taxonomists seem to be learning the skill in more varied means than the dominant on-the-job experience.