#CityLIS Student Perspectives: The benefits of volunteering – an insight into my experience working with ISKO UK

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current CityLIS students.

This post is by current CityLIS student, Sharon Stewart, and reflects on her volunteering experiences while studying.


This post is primarily aimed at fellow #CityLIS students but may also be useful for anyone with an interest in knowledge organisation (KO), especially taxonomy.

MSc Information Science students at #CityLIS are regularly offered the opportunity to volunteer for various positions across a range of organisations.  I responded to a request for help by ISKO UK, the UK chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization.  My involvement has been so rewarding I want to share my experience and highlight the benefits of volunteering to other students.

ISKO’s mission is to “promote the theory and practice of organising knowledge and information”.   It was founded in 1989 and has more than 500 individual and corporate members, working in many different fields in the academic, corporate and government sectors.  The UK chapter was established in February 2007 with the aim of building bridges between the research and practitioner communities across the field.  ISKO UK hold a variety of meetings on topical subjects and organise a biennial two-day conference.

Their latest conference, ‘Knowledge organization: what’s the story?’, was held in September 2017 at the Canada Water Library, Southwark’s flagship library and culture centre based in the heart of Canada Water.  The agenda covered topics such as the historical narrative of KO education; use of the KO narrative in the workplace; extracting the stories hidden in images, sounds and dance; exploiting linked data to follow threads of discovery in news stories and KO in a “post-trust” society.


My role was to assist the committee and ensure that the event ran smoothly by helping delegates with registration, guiding them around the venue, circulating the microphone during question & answer sessions and generally being on hand to help with queries.  In return, I was given the opportunity to attend the sessions and listen to some fabulous speakers.

Prior to the event I was invited to a pre-conference meeting at the venue to meet the committee members and be involved in any last-minute arrangements.  Another student, studying Library & Information Science at University College London (UCL), also volunteered and attended the session.  It was a good opportunity to compare notes on our courses and discuss the modules that we were working on.

The evening before the conference I socialised with some of the delegates and speakers at a meet-up designed to enhance the net-working experience.   I met several ‘real-life’ taxonomists and speakers from all over the world who travelled to the U.K. to share their experience.

The conference opened with a Keynote address by Vanda Broughton, Emeritus Professor of Library & Information Studies at UCL, and the author of a number of books and articles on faceted classification and controlled vocabularies.  Vanda, in keeping with the theme of the conference,  told the fascinating story of KO and highlighted some of the historic attempts at classifying the universe.  I was privileged to sit in on over 30 additional sessions over the next two days ranging from Nick Poole’s talk on why ‘Facts Matter’ – evidence, trust and literacy in a post-truth world to Jo Kent’s account of creating journeys through the BBC Radio archive using linked data.

No-where else have I encountered such a diverse range of speakers from both the areas of academia and practice.  It was an interesting insight into how classification, indexing, taxonomies and ontologies are being used and my own body of knowledge has been greatly enhanced as a result.

ISKO UK subsequently contacted me to assist them at the Taxonomy Boot Camp 2017 conference, held on 17 & 18 October at Olympia London.  This event is the second one of its kind held in the U.K.  My duties included manning the ISKO UK desk which was positioned alongside the CILIP Special Interest Group, NetIK and sponsors of the conference Synaptica & PoolParty.

Taxonomy Boot Camp London 2017]Source: Taxonomy Boot Camp London 2017

In between talking to existing and potential ISKO members, I indulged in another two days of speakers presenting their views on how to develop your career as a taxonomist, designing taxonomy-driven systems, taxonomy evaluation & maintenance and crucially how to deal with governance and stakeholder engagement.  These elementary sessions formed part of Track A, designed for beginners or newcomers to taxonomies.  Parallel sessions in Track B offered topics such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and semantic models for the more experienced taxonomist.  There was no obligation to stick to one track so many delegates switched between them to suit their interests.

Taxonomy Boot Camp 2017

I must admit, I was a little star struck at meeting the authors of a couple of books I read last term, namely Tom Reamy and Heather Hedden.  In addition to hearing them speak I got the opportunity to thank them in person for their contribution to my Information Organisation assignment and Tom signed my copy of Deep Text!

The networking did not stop there.  ISKO UK sponsored a taxonomy chill-out session which took place after the first day of the conference.  Participants were invited for drinks at the Hand and Flower pub opposite Olympia which was well attended by both delegates and speakers.

Following Taxonomy Boot Camp 2017 I have become a member of ISKO UK and continued with my involvement in the organisation’s activities.  I gained so much in return for volunteering I would recommend it as a worthwhile activity for other #CityLIS students.


If you would like more information on ISKO UK please visit the website at http://www.iskouk.org or http://www.isko.org for details of other chapters within the organisation.


You can follow Sharon on twitter.

This post is an edited version of the original which was published on the author’s blog, Reflections and Insights of a #CityLIS student as The benefits of volunteering as a #CityLIS student – an insight into my experience working with ISKO UK on 4th November 2017.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact our Editor, James Atkinson.

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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