Robert D. Montoya

The Composition of Consensus: Biodiversity, Classification, and Information

Date: October 25, 2016

Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm

Room: Wells Library, Rm LI 001


In order to gain a better sense of the globe’s biodiversity, the scientific community is making a concerted effort to aggregate dispersed species data and facilitate “universal” access to this information through networked systems. Taxonomies that structure this information using established standards and management ontologies are central to this effort. But there is no consensus on their structure given how these standards and ontologies necessarily reorganize localized and highly technical taxonomic hypotheses into configurations fit for wider consumption. Composite taxonomies are the ”consensus” infrastructures being built to merge multiple biodiversity taxonomies under one intellectual classification, thereby scaffolding global data for both access and reuse. However, as constructed systems, these knowledge infrastructures make implicit epistemological and ontological claims that are often difficult to identify due to the complexity of their architecture. This talk aims to identify how such networked, digital systems have radically transformed how we understand the constitution of these taxonomies as new representational spaces in-and-of themselves that merit close critique. This project invokes critical approaches to examine how biodiversity taxonomies can be assessed in terms of their historical development, philosophical contours, socio-cultural uses, policy implications, and ethical positions. To examine these issues, results from a mixed-method study focusing on the Catalogue of Life–a global index of species and hierarchical taxonomic infrastructure–will be presented. This project ultimately seeks to identify how biodiversity taxonomic practices can inform the discipline of, and practices within, Information Studies. In particular, what implications do such systems have on how we can design more pluralistic classificatory systems, and how we situate and define information and documents as continually-redefined entities within complex, digital information ecologies.



Robert Montoya is a doctoral candidate in Information Studies at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. His research broadly examines how communities organize, classify, and share information, and how the knowledge organizing infrastructures that support this exchange are affected by underlying values about knowledge. He has extensive experience working in academic libraries, including professional positions in special collections and archives since 2007. Most recently, he was the Head of Public Services for Library Special Collections (LSC) at UCLA where he led LSC’s reference, reader services, instruction, outreach, duplication services, and scholarly communication & publishing. Robert graduated with a B.A. in American Literature and Culture, with a minor in Biological Anthropology, from UCLA, an M.F.A In Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and an M.L.I.S. with a specialization in Rare Books, Print and Visual Culture from UCLA. Other fields of scholarly interest include library studies/management, history of the book and print culture, special collections & archives, and scholarly & electronic publishing.