Book review: Organising Knowledge — Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness
Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness
Patrick Lambe, 2007
Taxonomies are often surrounded by an air of reverence and mystique. Traditionally seen as the domain of librarians, recordkeepers and botanists, they are now hot property in business circles, but no better understood.
Patrick Lambe’s book sets out to systematically address these issues, by introducing, explaining and exploring taxonomies. Coming from a background as a librarian, knowledge management expert and consultant, Patrick draws together many topics to provide a rich view of taxonomies in the real world.
This is not a how-to manual. While a strong overall methodology is outlined for creating and maintaining a taxonomy, there is not enough detail to allow the uninitiated to walk this path unaided. This book does, however, achieve two very important aims.
Firstly, it introduces taxonomies and their use to a business audience. Through many current and historical examples, often presented engagingly with great wit, Patrick lays the groundwork for understanding taxonomies. He then builds on this foundation to show how many different types of taxonomies can be put into practice in typical business situations. The mini case studies used throughout are particularly instructive.
Secondly, this book is a call to action for those typically associated with taxonomies (such as librarians and records managers) to take a broader view of the world. Encouraging these specialists to venture outside of their bounded domains, Patrick shows that taxonomies are not a theoretical exercise, but a practical approach that must be tempered by the pragmatic realities of organisations.
Still, I would’ve liked to see a few more concrete techniques introduced into the book, drawing more strongly on information architecture approaches such as card sorting, card-based classification evaluation and usability testing to support the creation of taxonomies. While I am wiser on the meaning and use of taxonomies, I still don’t know that I could create one confidently myself.
By the time the last page is reached, however, this book has become much more than just an introduction to taxonomies. Instead, it has grown into an exploration of many interrelated topics around knowledge, and how to put it to work. For this, Patrick Lambe is to be commended.