The fun with taxonomies: Classifying stuff for yourself and others

guilty, originally uploaded by kechambers.

It’s time for another round of TRT term voting. What’s going to make the cut this round? Will “Vehicular ad hoc networks” finally find its way into Facet X? (No.) What about “Blended cement?” (Probably).

Every time we go through another quarter’s discussions about new terms for the TRT, it just reminds me how many viewpoints need to be considered before we vote on a term. How is the term actually going to be used? Is it appropriate for our intended audience? Should we consider other groups? As an indexer, searcher, and reference librarian it gives me a headache.

This of course makes me think of how people organize their records (or not). Beyond the simple alphabetical (which isn’t really that simple…), it gets messy. You might go by genres, but whose definition of genres are you using? That’s one thing that always drives me batty and makes me appreciate controlled vocabularies. Let’s look at the Last.FM tags for The Hi-Fives (my favourite band). “The Smiths”? How, because they have guitars? “Terropop” doesn’t make sense either. That’s the problem though. We all have different points of view.

Controlled vocabularies are supposed to manage these points of view, guide us all on a uniform path. The TRT and TRID are not as idiosyncratic as my record collection, but I also don’t expect several thousand people to look at my records.

I’m always surprised how mentally draining this is – thinking about how our work with the TRT, and the indexing impacts the end user. When I step back and think about my implications for using or not using a term, or accepting or declining a candidate term, it seems like I could really impact somebody’s research. Poor indexing leads to poor retrieval and potentially duplicated research which is money down the drain. That’s why it always has a life and death feel to it for me, but I know that’s silly. Even before I was laid off, I knew I cared too much about this. Even now, I can’t pull back. We owe it to everybody to get it right.

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