Middleware of a Library

Due to my interest in libraries I decided to apply this week’s blog post about middleware to such an institution. In a library infrastructure, the bottom level component or “application program” would be the various media items that a library has in its collection and is available to the public: books, DVDs, CDs, books on CD, art prints, magazines, etc. The top level component or “network” would be the public/library patrons or public satisfaction. In between these two levels there are several middleware components that mediate between the media objects and the public. These include but are not limited to: librarians, the library’s catalog, the library building, public outreach events, circulation staff, public computers, checkout machines, the library’s website and new media orders.

I believe the circulation staff are one of the most critical middleware components of a library. Circulation staff are responsible for checking in media items, checking out media items (when the public does not use self-checkout stations), reshelving media items, organizing media items, care/upkeep/cleaning of media items and more. While the circulation staff definitely have their moments working with the public, most of the time their work goes unnoticed/recognized by library patrons; they are there to make using the library easier for patrons but are not always interacting with them. Circulation staff are so critical is because they basically are the people that help make it possible to have a media item be on a shelf where the catalog says it is, making it easier for library patrons to find items they are looking for and be satisfied.

While circulation staff tends to be a private middleware component and their work seems to happen without the patrons noticing, many middleware components are more public. It makes sense that much of the middleware of a library would be public because libraries are all about serving their public. For example, the library building is obviously very public. It is a middleware component because it provides a location for the public to physically browse what media items the library has in its collection. In addition it is a place where the public can come interact with these media item by checking them out of using them in the library. Another example of a public middleware component is the library’s catalog, which provides a digital way for the public to interact and browse the collection. One thing that I find interesting is that most library’s have a catalog specifically designed for the public connected to a catalog specifically designed for staff use, giving the catalog both public and private domain.

Although libraries have been around for a long time, their middleware components are always changing and evolving because the roles of a library are always changing. At one point when libraries were more focused on scholarliness, their middleware components were the glue between books/research and the public. Therefore the middleware components might have included librarians but not public outreach events. More recently libraries have begun to focus on general public satisfaction and connecting more with the public. With this in mind the middleware components can now include public outreach events that promote aspects of the library’s collection. Now in this digital age libraries need to get creative with how they can connect their collections to their public. While some libraries have already started adding new middleware in order to do so, such as public computers or computer classes, I am excited to see where libraries might go next. How will a library’s middleware change in this digital age in order to better mediate between the collection items and the public?

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