Last night’s “Nightly Business Report” on Public Broadcasting included a commentary on disintermediation, or cutting out the middleman. (You can read a transcript at http://to.pbs.org/pZAYuk.) The commentator’s point was that thanks to disintermediation in media industries (think YouTube and Amazon self-publishing), we are less and less dependent on intermediaries like TV network executives and book publishers to determine what we watch and what we read.
Nothing really new in that, but it got me thinking once again about disintermediation and librarians and how I haven’t blogged about the relationship between disintermediation and embedded librarianship. After all, we librarians are another group of intermediaries whose prospects have been affected by new technologies. Everybody has heard about how Google is going to put us all out of business.
That’s overstating it of course. Rumors of our professional death have been exaggerated — but there’s no denying the general trend of disintermediation.
The question is: in an era of disintermediation, what do you do if you are the middleman? You can stand around and wait to get cut, or you can move. Where can you move to? Either end of the transaction you formerly mediated. For librarians, in one direction lies the creation and operation of tools for content producers, or becoming a content producer yourself. In the other direction lies becoming so close to a group of information consumers that you become one of them — perhaps the arch-consumer for the group.
Initially I was thinking that the latter alternative was the embedded librarianship alternative, but as I consider it, maybe there are embedded opportunities in both directions. One thing for sure, you don’t want to get caught in the middle.