The World’s First Library Book Drone Delivery Service is Here!

Caring Virginian librarian calls on tech to reach out to kids at home.

Jun 22, 2020

Meet Kelly Passek. She’s a middle-school librarian in Virginia who didn’t want the coronavirus pandemic, and the closure of the local libraries it necessitated, keeping kids in Montgomery County public schools away from the books they love. Passek was also aware that these students need to keep up with their summer reading lists. So she had a light bulb moment: use drones!

You heard right! Passek already had packages of essential household items delivered to her home via Wing Aviation, a drone delivery service from Google’s Alphabet. If this worked for her in her personal life, she thought, why not use this service to drop off books at the homes of her students so they could continue reading for pleasure and get ahead with their studies. She wanted her “charges” to be able to stay engaged with independent reading even during this extended out-of-school time.

An early adopter herself, she’s a fan of using available technologies to continue to provide access to the library resources for the kids she serves. Luckily for Passek, her manager, Mark Miear, immediately agreed to a pilot program.

So since the second week in June, this “everyday hero” has made the plan happen as a free service, and it’s a world first! Students living within Wing’s four-mile delivery zone in Christiansburg, Virginia, can go online and select books from a list of over 150,000 titles. Providing the books weigh less than three pounds, Passek then packs them in cute yellow cardboard boxes which she brings to Wing’s offices so their drones can fly them to kids across the county.

“I think kids are going to be just thrilled to learn that they are going to be the first in the world to receive a library book by drone,” Passek told the Washington Post.

“As a school librarian, it is extremely important to me to have connections with my students so that I can make sure that they have got access to the resources that they need and the resources that will allow them to be successful — not just academically, but also in life,” she explains to CBS News, in our featured video. When the period of remote learning made getting these precious resources to kids harder (Passek initially used school buses to deliver some books to kids), the challenge was to maintain that connection with her students without being in the same physical space as them. Thanks to her new drone delivery initiative, students can order multiple books, and only need to return them when school restarts in the fall.

This caring professional emphasizes how libraries are an essential and unique parts of her community and how important it is that students continue to be able to access their wealth of resources. She is keenly aware that libraries may be the only route to reading for some students who have limited access to books, and for families who can’t afford e-readers.

And this pilot is availing of a newly unboxed delivery system. Mashable reports that Wing Aviation last year became the first drone delivery company to receive an air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.  It was only in October 2019 that it started transporting FedEx and Walgreens packages to consumers in Christiansburg, Virginia.

One silver lining of the pandemic is that the public have proof of and so a renewed faith in the ability of drones to serve their needs. As the New York Times recently reported, drones are now used more often to help out with a number of human tasks as people have been sheltering indoors. These include checking that social distancing is being followed in Paris and Mumbai, airdropping tens of thousands of medical supply packages in Ghana and Rwanda to cancer suffers and other patients quarantining in remote villages, delivering food essentials in the US, and hovering over crowds in China to share public health messages.

This article points out that the pandemic, just like major world events in the past, is accelerating tech development cycles.  According to author Richard Yonck, the founder of Intelligent Future Consulting in Seattle, cutting-edge tech is already coming to the rescue of vulnerable populations: “We’re seeing that now with drones and other automation in response to the pandemic, there’s a push to develop new tools that can reduce people’s exposure to the virus. [We’re asking] what can we automate and by how much?”

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DAPHNE KASRIEL ALEXANDER, EDITOR IN CHIEF
Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.