What makes a good taxonomist?

24 February 2018

Now in its third year, Taxonomy Boot Camp in London is already acknowledged as an invaluable resource for those implementing taxonomies within their organisations, as well as those who are just setting out on their taxonomy journey. Here, two of our speakers - expert taxonomists in their own right - tell us what makes a great taxonomist.

Helen Lippell, Programme Chair, and Taxonomy, Metadata & Search Consultant, UK: When I think about the people who helped me when I first started out, and the people I’ve met since then, these are four of the qualities they had that I tried to learn from:

  • Bags of curiosity about, well, everything
  • Willingness to listen to and understand every stakeholder, even (especially) the more challenging ones
  • A positive attitude to change – no project or job ever stays the same
  • Ability to think about systems and domains in a structured way.

At the BBC, when we were hiring junior colleagues, we joked that if they had a classification system for their music then they would probably make a good taxonomist!" 

Patrick Lambe, Principal Consultant, Straits Knowledge, Singapore: "'There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip' is an ancient proverb, attributed by some to the time of Homer. Increasingly, this is true of how taxonomies are implemented. Good designs, poor results. The difference between a competent taxonomist and a great taxonomist is increasingly coming to be about a social, technical and practical knowledge of the various technologies through which the work of enabling discovery and access gets done, including search, text analytics, semantic technologies, and data visualisation. It’s not enough to be a great winemaker any more. Our role is to help people drink.”

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