Kids in the Montgomery County, Virginia, school district in the United States have a special way of getting books to read during the pandemic: they’re delivered by drones.
A drone is a small remote-controlled aircraft, like a toy-sized plane or helicopter.
Kelly Passek is the librarian at Blacksburg Middle School. When schools closed last spring because of the Covid-19 pandemic, she wanted to make sure students in her school district would still have access to books.
A company called Wing Aviation delivers food and other items from restaurants and stores in Passek’s town. She had used the drone service to have things delivered to her own home, and she thought it could work for delivering books to students, too.
The people at Wing agreed and the company began making deliveries. Students who live in the delivery zone can fill out a Google form to request a specific book, or ask Passek to choose one for them.
Passek receives the requests, then gets the books from the library, puts them in a special package, and takes them to Wing’s shipping centre.
Wing loads each book onto a drone. The drone flies to the delivery location, lowers the book on a cable, and releases it when it’s close to the ground.
The first book sent out this way – and maybe the first library book ever to be delivered by drone – was All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. It was required summer reading for a 14-year-old student in the district.
The drones have a wingspan of about one metre, and weigh about 4.5 kilograms. They can carry packages that weigh up to 1.3 kilograms.
Students are allowed to request more than one book, and, although they now have the option to return to in-person classes, many are still opting to use the drone service.
THINK AND DISCUSS
What is a drone?
1. Some drones are just flown for fun, while others are built to take pictures and videos and some to carry packages like books. Some drones are used in the military, to go to places that would be unsafe for a human. There was even said to have been a drone that went into space. Do a bit of Googling and find out more about these fascinating aircraft, such as when and where they’re allowed to be used and some of the things they’re not allowed to do.
2. What are some of the issues people might have with drones? For instance, maybe they could scare some people, or get in the way of planes, or accidentally drop a package. What are the good things about drones–for instance, they allow kids to get books during the pandemic.
3. There are several other meanings of the word “drone.” What are they?
4. What are you reading? How are you getting books to read during the pandemic? Have you read any e-books?
Here’s a video of librarian Kelly Passek talking about using the drone. https://medium.com/wing-aviation/wing-delivers-library-books-to-students-in-virginia-b2cd0ad86551
This terrific article in American Libraries gives an update on Passek’s drone service: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/the-great-outdoors-library-services-covid-19/
This Smithsonian Magazine article includes links to other stories about it as well: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/one-middle-school-library-delivering-books-drone-180975093/