Don’t be a drone, use a drone

If your college library is anything like my local college library, they hand deliver physical materials requested by faculty. I repeat, to faculty, not to students. It is not a frequently used service but for some busy researchers or physically disabled researchers on campus, it is a tremendously useful service to provide the hand delivering of books and articles. The question isn’t why are they providing this service, but how. Why do college libraries continue to physically deliver books when there are faster and more autonomous delivery methods? Why aren’t libraries exploring other methods to get books to our busy patrons instead of requiring them or a busy librarian to trek across campus to facilitate access to a book?

To answer these questions let’s digress. In recent news, there were many advancements in transportation, the biggest relates to autonomy. If you took your nose out of that book for a few minutes, you may have seen the Top Gear episode where the lumbering Jeremy Clarkson tested an autonomous BMW…at full speed…on a race track.

This raises a few interesting questions for physical information delivery. These dots are far apart, please allow me to connect them for you. If Top Gear and Amazon are exploring autonomous transportation via cars or book delivery drones, there is no reason why libraries should not be exploring the use of book delivery drones.

It may seem incredibly far fetched for universities to implement drone book deliveries, but let us count the ways college libraries might save money. For one faculty book delivery what is the cost to a university? First there is the acqusition. Universities often provide a golf cart for library book deliveries. For a golf cart, your library would spend $2500 for a used cart, or $7500 for a new one. You’ll be delivering books in the cold, so you will need a golf cart cover to protect you, that’s another $200 bucks.

Next there is the training. You don’t want staff driving a golf cart irresponsibly, this requires driver training courses to lower your insurance risk. Let us arbitrarily assume the golf cart driving course is an hour in length. During this hour, surely the librarian is on the clock. The ALA median MLS salary is $53,000. Let’s assume the golf cart-driving librarian is an entry level staff with a salary at $42,000, putting his hourly wage around $23. Not factoring in the long term costs of delivering articles to faculty on campus, the initial start-up cost for the service is: $4000 (golf cart)+$200 (cart cover)+$23 (an hour of training) = $4223.

Putting all other reasonable drone implementation questions aside, what does the average book delivery drone cost? If you want a duel purpose drone, you can buy a military grade UAV for only $2600. It appears the choice is obvious, your library should buy a drone. Book delivery drones will be used by libraries. The question is how soon will your library be the bomb?

This article was originally published in February 2014 at and has been re-posted here for self-archiving purposes.


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