The Taxonomy

AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy of Human Services

The AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy is the North American standard for indexing and accessing human services resource databases. The Taxonomy is a hierarchical system that contains more than 9,000 fully-defined terms that cover the complete range of human services. U.S. English, Canadian English and Canadian French versions of the Taxonomy can be accessed via the Taxonomy website at

AIRS does not own the Taxonomy, is not responsible for its development and does not receive any financial benefit from its licensing, although AIRS members do receive a discount on their subscriptions. The Taxonomy is an intellectual property copyrighted by 211 LA County and available only to licensed subscribers. Vendors who create I&R software that incorporates the Taxonomy and I&R services that use the software to maintain a resource database employing the Taxonomy, are required to maintain a valid license.

The Taxonomy serves as a common language that facilitates interoperability between different I&R resource databases. It represents a tremendous gift to the I&R movement that has evolved over 20 years thanks to the commitment of 211 LA County and the Taxonomy's editor, Georgia Sales. The cost of developing and maintaining anything comparable from scratch today is almost inconceivable.

But using the Taxonomy properly as either a Resource Specialist indexing information or an I&R Specialist retrieving information is not a gift that is granted immediately. It requires some work and perseverance. But in the long run, the Taxonomy is always the best option. Agencies new to the Taxonomy are recommended to begin with the "Starter Set". This is a pre-selected set of about 1,000 terms that are ideal for most resource databases. You are free to add additional terms as specific needs arise.

For AIRS members looking for additional resources and support relating to the Taxonomy, there are online communities and document libraries set up on the AIRS Networker at (you will need your AIRS username and password to access these). The best option is to enter the Networker, click ‘Communities’ and then ‘All Communities’ on the top tab and then join the Taxonomy/Resource Database community. This online group of more than 220 resource specialists provides mutual support and assistance with the direct involvement of the Taxonomy’s editor and is the prime source of new and revised Taxonomy terms.

A Selection of Taxonomy Training Resources

Taxonomy Tour with Georgia Sales: Part One
This webinar presentation features Taxonomy editor, Georgia Sales, tackling questions in relation to Taxonomy filters, Taxonomy customization, the creation of new terms and use references, and the definition of double indexing.

Taxonomy Tour with Georgia Sales: Part Two
This webinar covers target terms, modality terms, related concepts and public searching of the resource database.

Taxonomy 101: From Initial Intimidation to Complete Control
This Powerpoint is designed to help new users of the Taxonomy understand how to use terms to index services; to dispel apprehensions about Taxonomy use; to discuss roadblocks and possible solutions to coding issues; and to highlight and resolve popular stumbling blocks (e.g. double indexing, target terms). It was delivered at the 2015 AIRS Conference in Dallas, Texas and presented by Ryan Ward, Health and Human Services Commission, Austin, Texas and John Allec, Findhelp Information Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Indexing with the Taxonomy
The Taxonomy of Human Services has been endorsed by AIRS as the national standard for indexing human service resource files. This classic article is intended to: familiarize users with some of the Taxonomy’s design features; introduce users to several principles of indexing with the Taxonomy; and help users to understand and make the decisions that are necessary to customize the Taxonomy for the unique needs of their organization. It was written by Margaret Bruni from Detroit Public Library and was published in the AIRS Journal in 2000 and remains relevant.

Taxonomy Overview
This is a powerpoint presentation courtesy of Findhelp Information Services of Toronto, that outlines the basic principles of the Taxonomy. It is a great resource for training staff and highlighting the essence of the Taxonomy.

Taxonomy Training Curriculum
This is a standard curriculum developed by AIRS with numerous handouts and exercises that can be used by Resource Specialists training others in how to use the Taxonomy or having to train themselves. As with many resources, it improves with personalization and users are encouraged to freely adapt this to their own I&R software, training style and internal processes.

Taxonomy Indexing Samples
This is a collection of over 150 basic service and program descriptions, each matched with an appropriate Taxonomy indexing term. Sometimes services can be indexed in different ways that are still correct - so don't worry if you have come up with a different solution. However, for people who have recently completed their Taxonomy training, this can be a very helpful guide.

Double-Indexing: What is it and how to avoid it
This document describes the nature of double-indexing, how to avoid it and when it might be permitted. It was developed by The AIRS Taxonomy Committee in 2010 with subsequent revisions.

Taxonomy for I&R Specialists
This is a basic introductory training for I&R Specialists who need to understand the principles of the Taxonomy and techniques that allow them to better search I&R resource databases.

Taxonomy Online Training Course
This is an online course (fee involved) available through the AIRS training portal at It takes about 3 hours to complete and is a good way of assessing your "Taxonomy readiness".

An Academic Overview of Taxonomies
This Powerpoint from Denise Bruno of the University of Toronto explains some of the theories and practices about the nature of taxonomies. Although not specific to the AIRS Taxonomy, it may be of interest to resource specialists wanting a bit more background about classification systems.

Criteria for I&R Software Using the AIRS Taxonomy
This is not a document for newcomers! But it is an important resource. It is primarily directed at I&R software vendors to explain how the Taxonomy needs to be set up on their systems in order to be used most effectively. However, it also allows I&R agencies who are considering their software options to look at some specific requirements (Does the software do x? Does it do y?) that will allow for more informed decision-making on software purchases.
This is the main taxonomy website maintained by 211 LA County. In addition to helpful information about the Taxonomy, this is also where you need to go if you are further interested in acquiring a license to use the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy.




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