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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F41N7Z23

Book Reviews

The Accidental Taxonomist

Rebeca Befus
First Year Experience & Science Librarian
Science & Engineering Library
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan

Copyright 2010, Rebeca Befus. Used with permission.

The Accidental Taxonomist. Heather Hedden. Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc, 2010. ISBN 978-1-57387-397-0. $39.50

The Accidental Taxonomist, by Heather Hedden,"aims to explain what you need to know to be a good taxonomist rather than explain how to create a taxonomy step-by-step" (p. xxvii). Hedden teaches a continuing education course on the subject of taxonomies and decided to write a book based on her experiences as a taxonomist and her classroom lessons. She defines taxonomy broadly to refer to any system or structure that deals with the organization of knowledge (p. 1). This book is ideal for the person who has been given the job of creating taxonomies without any prior knowledge or experience in the profession. Other uses for this book could be as a textbook for Library and Information Science students (MLS) and for librarians as a professional development resource. The strength of this book is the inclusion of many examples and screen shots in each chapter to help explain concepts, resources, and applications. This book does have a limited audience, and for the novice, the wealth of information can be overwhelming.

The Accidental Taxonomist consists of 12 chapters. The first two chapters take on the arduous task of defining taxonomies and the people that work with them. Hedden does a thorough job of explaining and exemplifying the various definitions, purposes, and skills a person entering the profession would need to have. Chapters three, four, and five discuss how to create terms, relationships, and the software used to manage the information. These chapters provide insight into the back end of what librarians use every day to help faculty and staff retrieve information. Chapters three and four would be excellent reading for MLS students taking courses in information retrieval as well as courses on taxonomies. Chapter five provides a multitude of examples of software; the real gem of this chapter is the inclusion of open source and free software. The sixth and seventh chapters discuss human and automatic indexing. Both chapters are extremely relevant not only to students and novice taxonomists, but to librarians who should know the fundamentals of these two systems. Chapter six includes a section on folksonomies which, given the nature of our information world, provides a quick way for librarians to become acquainted with exactly what they are. The next four chapters present Hedden's experience as a taxonomist. She describes in great detail how to structure, display, create, and implement taxonomies. These chapters would be of interest to a novice professional attempting to create a taxonomy, though for the general reader these chapters are well written but dry. The final chapter concludes the book with an overview of the profession. This chapter would be excellent for MLS students, as it provides examples of organizations, networking opportunities, and descriptions of various jobs in the field. Hedden also includes information on continuing education offered by various organizations, including universities and ALA, which would be useful for professionals in the field.

Hedden also provides four appendices, as well as an index. The first is a survey offered to those who consider themselves taxonomists, to collect information on the activities of the profession. The second is a glossary, which for the novice or ordinary librarian is a must have. The third is a list of recommended readings, in addition to the endnotes at the end of each chapter. Finally, the last appendix contains links to all the web sites Hedden refers to throughout the book. The links are also available on her web site:

Heather Hedden is a veteran in the field of taxonomies. She has worked as a controlled vocabulary editor, an information taxonomist and as a contract taxonomist for publishers such as Gale. Currently she is an "instructor of taxonomy development through the continuing education program of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science" (p. 415) and owner of Hedden Information Management. This book is a clear demonstration of her knowledge and experience in the field. As noted above, this book is an excellent resource for librarians and non-librarians working with taxonomies, library students, and for librarians who wish to learn more about information structure and organization.

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