Daily Archives: September 22, 2011

Disintermediation Trend is Eliminating Librarians

As I was curating my 21st Century Libraries Scoop.It site (Isn’t it wondrous how new language creeps into one’s vocabulary.), I came across an intriguing blog post gathered by the search engine over night; “Disintermediation and the (Embedded) Librarian from The Embedded Librarian. Inevitably, it started me thinking about his premise.

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.

I must admit that this was my first exposure to the term “disintermediation”. So, I searched it using my highly dependable, trusty and unbiased Metacrawler meta search engine (deliberately avoiding Wikipedia to demonstrate my unbiasedness.).

dis•in•ter•me•di•a•tion noun
1: the diversion of savings from accounts with low fixed interest rates to direct investment in high-yielding instruments
2: the elimination of an intermediary in a transaction between two parties
Investopedia explains Disintermediation
Disintermediation is usually done in order to invest in instruments yielding a higher return.
Removing the middleman. The term is a popular buzzword used to describe many Internet-based businesses that use the World Wide Web to sell products directly to customers rather than going through traditional retail channels. By eliminating the middlemen, companies can sell their products cheaper and faster. Many people believe that the Internet will revolutionize the way products are bought and sold, and disintermediation is the driving force behind this revolution. [Emphasis added.]
The elimination of the distributor and/or retailer (the middleman) when making a purchase. The term is used to refer to purchasing directly from a manufacturer’s Web site, the benefits of which are convenience, fast turnaround time and sometimes lower prices. Obviously, retail stores [and librarians] are very much against disintermediation. [Emphasis added.]

Common definitions have a definitely financial connotation of disintermediation, but our Embedded Librarian was able to easily apply the concept to librarians, who are also undeniably intermediaries.

… 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?

Aside from taking exception to his dismissing the disintermediation trend putting us all out of business as “overstating” and “exaggerated” – since I’ve been proclaiming that is exactly what may happen if librarians don’t figure out the alternative – I think Embedded may have hit on an essential perspective to developing that new alternative. He suggests that moving toward “Either end of the transaction you formerly mediated.” may be THE appropriate alternative. Embedded goes on to elaborate on this.

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.

When it gets framed in those terms, moving toward one end or the other of the “information access” distribution channel doesn’t seem quite so attractive. What librarian wants to be a creator of information that would by necessity be excessively narrowing to their tastes for accessing ALL information? And what librarian would want to become a consumer of information, which again by necessity would lead to consuming some but not ALL information?

I really like the potential of the concept that Embedded has hit upon as an alternative for the future of librarians – move out of the intermediary position toward a new role. I hope there is more discussion to explore this concept more fully.
Thanks Embedded.

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