Borrow a drone from the library?

Libraries are extending their collections beyond books and movies. More than ever, libraries are trying to meet the needs of their communities by providing computers, printers, and classes. However, the recent purchase of drones by the University of South Florida may create even more headaches for them as they consider how the drones are used.

The drones that were purchased can fly up to 400 feet above ground and record video. Students and facility in the Patel College of Global Sustainability proposed a project to create an environmental map of USF and wanted the drones to film an aerial view, but any student or faculty member can use the drones in their classes and research.

The students do have to be trained on the use of the drones and would have to show an academic project under supervision of faculty. However, there are many issues concerning their use or misuse. In addition, each drone costs $1500, and if damaged while in the student’s care, who is liable for fixing or replacing it? People attempt to knock drones out of the air by throwing objects at them. Would the student be responsible if it’s damaged through no fault of their own?

With advances in drone technology and usability, new regulations are being formed. The FAA has detailed rules about the use of drones outside, allowing recreational use, but not commercial use. Of course, the library intends that the drones be used for educational purposes, but students, while still adults, have been known to use bad judgment.

Although most libraries haven’t purchased drones for their patrons, and probably don’t plan to, more and more library visitors are expecting additional services when they go to the library. According to a 2013 study, among Americans who are 16 years of age or older, 77% consider free access to computers and the internet as very important at libraries. But many libraries go beyond just providing computers.

In Chattanooga, the library recently purchased a laser cutter, 3-D printers, and a loom. Libraries are evolving into newer community centers. North Carolina State University’s Hunt library has collaborative workspaces with group study rooms for videoconferencing and a room for editing sound and video.

As libraries grow to meet the needs of the community, it presents new problems for them. Libraries are often trying to keep up with the latest technology. They have to determine if offering something new is valuable to their patrons and is a good use of resources. They also need to work closely with legal counsel to address issues of privacy and misuse. This is especially true in the case of drones.

By purchasing the drones through the library instead of the science department, USF has made it easy for lots of students to access them. It will require a little bit more effort than it would to check out a book or use a computer, but many students will meet the requirements to borrow a drone.

It’s interesting to think about all the things that people could do with drones if they were available at the library. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to see a lot of problems that drones could create for libraries and their patrons.