Archive for September, 2011

Disintermediation and the (Embedded) Librarian

September 21, 2011

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 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.


Insights from the Medical Library Community

September 14, 2011

I doubt that many people outside the medical library community read the literature of medical librarianship. If that’s true, it’s a shame, for the medical librarians have much to teach the rest of the profession.

I’m moved to make that generalization by a recent article, “Is the Informationist a New Role? A Logic Model Analysis”,  by Diane Cooper of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. (Journal of the Medical Library Association, July 2011, 99:3; Health Module p. 189.)

In the article, Cooper (herself an Informationist at NIH) uses the logic model analysis technique to explore differences between the “general medical librarian” or GML, and the Informationist. (I would characterize the Informationist as an embedded librarian.) Suffice it to say, Cooper finds several important differences between the two, in terms of the way they conduct their work and the results they produce. She closes with some observations about the importance of these differences: “Our users are changing, and our work environment is changing. We may need to redefine the role of librarians to address the changing library environment” and, most directly relevant for me as as a library science teacher, some comments about the educational changes needed to prepare librarians for these new roles, including technical writing and writing for publication; knowledge of health care; evidence-based practice; and biostatistics.

I think this is a very useful article in clarifying the differences between embedded librarians and traditional public services librarians. While some of the details will vary from specialty to specialty within the profession, I think the general principles she outlines are broadly applicable, and she raises some fundamental questions about the education of the next generation of embedded librarians. It’s worth a read!