Are libraries Blockbuster in a Netflix world?

I read this earlier today via Zite, over breakfast at a cafe near our library:

http://www.digitaltonto.com/2014/a-look-back-at-why-blockbuster-really-failed-and-why-it-didnt-have-to/

It talks about the demise of Blockbuster and the rise of Netflix. Blockbuster made some dumb business decisions and ignored some possible ways to stay afloat, but the author Greg Satell talks about the importance of networks in Netflix’s rise. Blockbuster’s failure to understand the importance of networks also determined their fate. He says that those networks are very difficult to quantify or define, but that we’ve not really tried to understand their importance.

Even though we may work in a much smaller ecosystem (e.g. our library serves a University community), I really believe that our own future strongly depends on what we do within, and how we encourage and contribute to, our own networks. That is why I keep stressing the critical nature of engagement and the fact that everything we do is somehow connected to something else we do. Virtually nothing we do in libraries can actually be sustainably successful if we do it in isolation. I think the chase for efficiency in libraries has actually encouraged silos to develop and this works against those connections we must have within libraries. So far I think we* actually understand this and we actively seek to connect within and to those outside the library pretty well, but it is something we cannot ignore and that we must continue to invest in. The networks we participate in, encourage and contribute to have a positive effect on the development and relevance of our library and we should make them major considerations in all we do. To quote from Greg Satell @digitaltonto :

… we really haven’t scratched the surface on the networks we encounter in real life: The networks of consumers that make up our brands and industries as well as the organizational networks that determine how things get done—or don’t get done—in our enterprises.

And it’s imperative that we start thinking about them more seriously.  We need to stop acting as if there is a recipe for business—like a cake or a casserole—and start thinking in terms of how factors are connected.

I am now going to take this analogy a little further… I think the focus of libraries should already be moving from being all about the collections we develop and provide access to, measured mostly in size of collections and numbers of visitors, to the unique collections (of both knowledge and culture) that we help to create and then share with our networks. That, as Greg said, is something that is harder to define and measure. Of course the other key advantage that all libraries have, even in universities, is that they are cultural institutions. Culture provides context for all knowledge, but flourishes within libraries only when it is kept alive.

* UTS Library

UTS Library Retrieval System

The slide show above illustrates the progress from excavation and building to loading of the operational LRS itself. 

As you read this UTS Library staff are busy overseeing the load of more than 400,000 books into the Library’s new automated retrieval system (LRS) under Alumni Green. It is exciting to see years of planning come to fruition and to be so close to realising the benefits of the LRS.

By storing low-use physical items in this purpose-built retrieval system we will be able to relieve overcrowding on book shelves in the Library and make room to continue to expand our collection of print resources. Regular library visitors will have noticed the tightly-packed shelves and perhaps occasionally been frustrated by difficulty in locating books. From the end of 2014, only the newest and most highly-used physical items will be housed on open shelves, making it easier to browse and locate items amongst the most popular books from our collection. The LRS also allows for the merger of the Blake and Kuring-Gai libraries at the end of 2015.

We realize that older items in our collection continue to have value and need to remain easily accessible. This was the rationale behind building an on-site retrieval system, rather than using off-site storage from which books could only be retrieved irregularly. Material in our LRS will be delivered regularly, with deliveries scheduled several times each day. It is also the reason we’ve been busy making enhancements to our catalogue so you can find new ways to discover items in our collections by searching and browsing online. Shelf View lets you browse a ‘bookshelf’ displaying book covers, our ‘collection ribbon’ is a unique way to delve in to our collection by subject, and we are working on recommendations and personalisation.

The LRS will therefore let us continue to build our collections, with room to expand to at least 2040, in a carefully controlled and secure environment ensuring the long-term preservation and protection of this valuable resource. It will also help us make our collection accessible by relieving overcrowding on book shelves. Of equal importance, it will help us meet the needs of our clients from study spaces as teaching and learning changes and our student population grows. Currently library space is dominated by book shelves, but increasingly we hear from clients, and observe ourselves, that there are not enough places to study in the Library. And we know we need diverse spaces to facilitate different types of learning from quiet, individual study to participatory group learning. This is why, once the lower use items in our collection are relocated to the LRS, we will be working on delivering new types of spaces for learning and research. We hope as well to provide spaces and technologies that facilitate access to productive activities such as multi-media, gaming and “maker” technologies because many of our students are no longer assessed purely on written output: they are making things like models, videos, games, etc.

We’ve tried to build sustainability into every aspect of the LRS. The building itself has major sustainability features*, and will store books in a highly compact format; storing the same amount of books in a traditional library would require a building 4-5 times larger. We’ve also paid attention to smaller details to reduce the environmental impact of our operations. That’s why, for example, our staff will walk between the LRS and the Blake Library using trollies and backpacks to deliver books, rather than rely on cars which add to traffic congestion and pollution.

The LRS presents an exciting opportunity to expand library services and collections for the future, helping the library play a central role in the learning, teaching and research activities of UTS. You can learn more about the LRS on our website http://www.lib.uts.edu.au/future-library/library-retrieval-system-lrs

* Sustainability Features:

There is no Green Star rating category for a facility such as the LRS, but it benefitted greatly from being constructed under the same project works as the 5 Green Star design rated Thomas St Building (an extension for the Science Faculty and Graduate School of Health). For example, the project utilised the sustainable concrete (required to be made with recycled rainwater) poured on the Thomas St Project for the LRS project. Other elements were the very strict waste management requirements, providing evidence of waste minimisation during construction. The design also incorporates significant natural lighting brought into the LRS picking station area via the large skylight that will double as a viewing lens from Alumni Green.

The LRS itself contains high-grade insulation which minimises energy consumption to the building to control thermal issues. A number of measures have been employed to ensure an easily maintained constant temperature in the book storage Vault. The LRS has been constructed under the Alumni Green with the 600mm of earth together with the insulated concrete providing excellent insulation, far exceeding the insulation requirements. The Vault is also insulated from the Plenum via lightweight insulated panels and insulated concrete and blockwork.

The Plenum itself pre-cools the air to be used in the facility by exposure to the constant cool temperature of exposed rock and concrete that surrounds it. The air path through the plenum is long and winding to ensure the maximum exposure to the surfaces and therefore maximum reduction of outside air temperature. The use of pre-cooled air reduces the energy required by the mechanical plant substantially.

Note: I’ve also posted this here https://www.lib.uts.edu.au/blog/university-librarian/2014/07/our-library-retrieval-system#

Cold in July – Review

Cold in July was my final film of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. It is a film full of violence and variously described as pulpy, dark, horror/thriller and funny. I didn’t find it very funny at all. It is a rather odd film that starts with the shooting death of an intruder or “home invader” who appeared to be robbing the owners of valuables as they slept. Then the story becomes much more complex and it touches on subjects like revenge, police corruption, gun violence, snuff-porn and the exploitation of “illegal immigrants”. It was another poor choice on my behalf.

Despite the presence of accomplished actors like Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shephard I could find little to like. There were several plot twists, but I don’t think they were dealt with very well at all. And I may be wrong, but it looked as though the film was shot in a way to show 1989 as a rather colourless time in history through the use of subdued, almost sepia tones in many shots. I visited parts of the US in 1989 and can remember them quite clearly, although maybe Texas is an exception? It certainly wasn’t that colourless or faded to me.

I wasn’t sure whether the film was trying to tell a deeper story about the proliferation of shootings in the US or just relate the story from the original Joe Lansdale novel. It really didn’t do either justice.

Ordinary. 2.5/5

Wish I Was Here – Review

And so we come to a film that I was not expecting to like, but I did. This is Zach Braff’s second film as director, as well as being this film’s screen writer and producer, and it was largely crowd funded via Kickstarter. It is really a very gentle comedy and a feel-good movie that deals with family relationships, the reality of life as an actor for most actors, love and the coming loss of a father and grandfather. After so much violence, grief and depression in most of the films I’ve seen this festival, Wish I Was Here came as a very welcome break.

I thought all the lead characters were great, including Mandy Patinkin, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad and of course Zach himself as the father of the two kids played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon. Nobody is annoying or takes themselves too seriously.

The dialogue is cleverly humorous without trying to be too clever and there is also some very funny visual humour. The film is shot beautifully too. And about 10 years after Garden State, Zach Braff again uses some great music in the soundtrack including Bon Iver and Badly Drawn Boy. Zach and Kate even do a (thankfully short) version of James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James in their garage.

Enjoyed. 4/5

Fell – Review

Yet another film that I really wanted to like. It is visually really beautiful and mostly set in old-growth natural forests somewhere in Australia. The sound is also spectacular, particularly the sad cries of giant falling trees. The acting too is good, but it really needs more of a story-line and some well-written dialogue to carry it along.

It none too subtly reminds us of the tragic loss of our old-growth forests to wood-chipping and it is also about grief, loss, self-indulgence, fatherhood and a path towards vengeance. Much of the film is spent along that same path and I liked the first couple of times the director seemed to set up a situation in which vengeance may have been had and then pulls away from it. Eventually though, it became repetitive. We’d already learned enough about both lead characters and something else needed to happen, if only to maintain our interest in the story. That has been more than adequately demonstrated in at least three other films that I’ve seen in this festival. This film, however, just became a bit self-indulgent.

Not enough dialogue or story. 3/5

 

The Two Faces of January – Review


This film is billed as a thriller and it is set in early 1960s Greece and Crete. I’m not really sure it is that thrilling, but it is an old fashioned drama adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel. It is very Patricia Highsmith: lots of greedy people ripping each other off, people enjoying excess (or at least trying to) and perfectly attired actors all over the place. Maybe that is the key problem with this movie: it tries too hard to be perfect and everyone is always almost clinically dressed in beautiful clothes regardless of whether they’ve slept rough, been fighting or have just fallen over drunk as a jug.

Kirsten Dunst plays Kirsten Dunst as Viggo Mortensen’s partner and whilst Oscar Isaac looks convincing in his role I still cannot forgive him for starring in one of the most boring films of all time (Inside Llewyn Davis).

From fairly early on you realise that Viggo’s reckless character is going to get caught and you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this will probably happen just before the end of the film. You just keep wondering whether he will get caught before he dies of throat or liver cancer. Poor Viggo must have smoked at least 90 cigarettes and drunk three or four bottles of whisky in just under 100 minutes.

It is nevertheless an entertaining story that does maintain your attention. Towards the end there is also an excellent realistic foot chase scene in which the heavy-smoking and hard-drinking Viggo thankfully does not suddenly become an Olympic gymnast and athlete, as is the case in so many other films.

Good. 3.5/5

Black Coal, Thin Ice – Review


Set in a contemporary northern industrial province of China, this award winning film is an entertaining and intriguing detective mystery. Our hero Zhang Zili played by Liao Fan starts the film as a police detective, but he is injured in a clumsy fire fight in which two of his colleagues are killed and is retired from the force on health grounds. Some years later as a recovering(?) alcoholic he sets about solving the mystery and avenging the grisly death of another close police colleague. It all makes for a dark and gritty drama, but there is much more to this film as the director Diao Yinan cites the Coen Brothers as one of his influences. I don’t think I’ve given away the ending and it is well worth the journey.

I loved a lot about this film. There are quite a few scenes that are introduced with an almost abstract image on which the camera dwells for a while before panning away to give it context and two of those scenes involve coal and ice. The key characters are beautifully developed as very real and flawed people, portrayed by skilled actors. And Diao Yinan uses a lot of comedy to add life and reality to the story, especially with the lead character Zhang. He has a number of scenes that border on slapstick, again relating to the constant presence of ice as the film scenes all seem to be set in the winter months. Towards the end, there is a police chase on foot that resembles the Keystone Cops (for me at least).

The film also echoes those gritty black and white detective dramas from the 1950s and 1960s, well before the complexities of crime scene investigators and high-tech surveillance systems, and I liked that too. The final scene is just wonderful.

Well done Diao Yinan! 4.5/5