The Sept/Oct issue of the AARP magazine (yeah, I’m a card carrying member) had an article about travel agents (“A Tour of One’s Own, p. 100). It got me thinking about what travel agents and librarians have in common. It’s this: the Web was supposed to put both of us out of business. Travel agents would be replaced by travel websites (a la Expedia, Travelocity, et al.) and everybody would be able to retrieve all the information they needed for themselves. It would be the age of disintermediation.
But that hasn’t happened. Instead, both travel agents and librarians have adapted to the changed environment. For the travel agents in the AARP article, it means they have become experts in specific destinations, able to put together the exact itinerary you want, using their knowledge and connections to get you special experiences and deals that most people don’t know about. One way that librarians have adapted is to become embedded: highly knowledgeable about the needs of the special groups they work with, and able to deliver customized information solutions — often without even being asked.
I won’t carry this parallel too far: clearly there are lots of differences between specialized travel agents and embedded librarians. But, I think, important similarities too.