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FreePint BlogThe care and feeding of taxonomies: Taxonomy management

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By Heather Hedden


Taxonomy management is an important responsibility of any organization that owns a taxonomy, no matter the original source of the taxonomy. Taxonomies connect users to content, and as users, content or terminology may change over time, the taxonomy must adapt. This is a short version of a more detailed article published in the FreePint Subscription. 


There are many kinds of content management needs that can be served by having a taxonomy: online subscription databases, large public websites or portals, ecommerce sites, intranets, SharePoint sites, content management systems, digital asset management systems and corporate library systems. A taxonomy is defined broadly as a structured, defined set of terms or categories used to classify, categorise, index or tag content items. There are various sources for taxonomies, internal or external, but in all cases, the on-going management and maintenance of a taxonomy is an important internal responsibility of any organisation that owns a taxonomy.

There are many reasons and circumstances why a taxonomy needs to be managed. There could be changes in the content, audience, terminology, indexing methods, or user interface. Furthermore, multiple taxonomies may need to be integrated, merged, or mapped.  Even the best designed taxonomy does not remain as useful as it can be over time if it is not managed and kept up to date with changing circumstances. Any organisation that owns and uses a taxonomy needs to have a taxonomy management plan. Such a plan should include taxonomy editorial policies, indexing policies, maintenance procedures, and governance responsibilities.

The development of a taxonomy and the management of a taxonomy may be done by different people, come out of different budgets, and may be separated by considerable time. Depending on the size of the taxonomy, the type of taxonomy and its importance to an organisation’s core business, the sources for a taxonomy may vary. Consequently, the responsibility for the on-going management and maintenance of a taxonomy may reside with different internal groups.

  • Taxonomies developed by internal staff information specialists: It is logical that those who developed the taxonomy be responsible for its maintenance. The development of the taxonomy, however, may have been a special “project” with a project budget. Moving on to the maintenance and management tasks may require redefined roles.
  • Taxonomies developed by contract taxonomists or consultants: It is neither economical nor practical in the long-term to contract out taxonomy maintenance. Furthermore, the issues requiring taxonomy management decisions are best handled internally.
  • Taxonomies licensed or purchased from an external source: Vendors of licensed or purchased taxonomies usually permit modification of their taxonomies. This is needed, because no two circumstances of taxonomy application are the same.
  • Taxonomies inherited from a legacy organisation: An organisation is fortunate if it can leverage pre-existing taxonomies, but these have typically been developed at a different time, and under different circumstances. If the legacy taxonomies have not been maintained in a long time, they may be very out of date.

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Heather Hedden ( is an independent taxonomy consultant through her business Hedden Information Management (, based outside of Boston. She is also a continuing education instructor of online taxonomy workshops at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the author of The Accidental Taxonomist.

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