Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mentoring Taxonomist Program

In my last blog post, I discussed the need for mentoring taxonomists and mentioned that I had volunteered to lead the new mentoring committee of the Taxonomy Division of SLA (Special Libraries Association) and establish its mentoring program ( While some of the mentoring activities are available to members only, other mentoring services can involve anyone, so I will describe them here.

Frequently Asked Question Resources

In many cases, those new to taxonomies simply have questions about the taxonomy field. Therefore, the initial and primary activity of the SLA Taxonomy Division’s Mentoring Committee has been to develop a detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and answers, which total 35 to date.

The issue as to whether the answers should be a service to Taxonomy Division members only or to public was resolved by having short answers of 1-3 sentences for the public, and longer answers of 150 – 250 words on separate web pages accessible to members only with their login. (Members also have the ability to submit additional questions to the FAQs.) The FAQs with the short answers are available under the Mentoring section of the public website:

Mentor and Protégé Directories

Connecting aspiring taxonomists (whom we are calling protégés) with experienced taxonomists, who volunteer to be mentors, is another objective. While it is neither practical nor feasible for the Taxonomy Division to provide direct individual mentoring services nor match mentors to protégés, it can act as a clearinghouse in providing directories on its web site of both willing mentors and interested protégés. In the past few months, I have set up both a Mentor Directory and a Protégé Directory, and it is not required that people be listed in one directory in order to contact those listed in the other directory.

Mentor Directory

Access to mentors is, as expected, a membership benefit. Thus, the Mentor directory is accessible by membership login only. Mentors are SLA Taxonomy Division members with considerable experience in some aspect of taxonomies and are willing to volunteer limited time in mentoring for the benefit of their professional growth and prestige. Mentors listed in the Mentor Directory:
  • should be available for answering specific individual questions about the taxonomy field, education/training, and job prospects, which the general FAQs cannot answer.
  • probably could help out a protégé who brings his/her own project
  • most likely do not have projects to offer in an internship type of relationships (but might)

Protégé Directory

Taxonomy Division members who have had at least some training or exposure to taxonomies and would like to gain the benefits of mentoring may list their names in the Protégé Directory, which is displayed on the website:

Protégés seeking a mentoring relationship could be for taxonomy projects in either of the following two scenarios:
  1. The protégé is looking for a temporary internship or training arrangement, expecting lower than average pay or no pay in exchange for (1) the opportunity to work without prior experience, (2) useful feedback from the supervisor-mentor, and (3) the ability to use the supervisor-mentor as a future work reference.
  2. The protégé has a pending or existing taxonomy project (whether at work, a freelance project, or a volunteer project) and is seeking advice on aspects of the taxonomy design and/or feedback on initial taxonomy work.
Responses to either of these two kinds of mentoring possibilities are still expected to be relatively low, so the Taxonomy Division is permitting nonmembers who can mentor to contact listed protégés. In the case of the first scenario in particular, many qualified taxonomists who are willing to mentor, simply don’t have suitable projects or company legal permission to bring on temporary interns or subcontractors at below-market rates. Non-profit organizations, though, are more likely to have arrangements for volunteers.

Therefore, if you are looking for a taxonomist intern whom you are willing to mentor, check out the Protégé Directory. If you are looking to be mentored, then join SLA and its Taxonomy Division and list yourself in the directory.