Readers sometimes wonder why Special Collections materials can’t be transferred between library sites. In the twenty-first century, we still expect readers to travel between sites, and anyone who has experienced Manchester’s roads will know the challenges that this presents.

So, for a trial period from today, we are applying cutting-edge technology to bring rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections, to you, the reader. Taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book (other low-tax paying online retailers are available), we will be using drones to transfer Special Collections materials from the John Rylands Library to other University of Manchester Library sites.

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Antiquarian book being carried by one of the new drones.

The Drone Airborne Fast, Frequent Order and Delivery Inter-Library Service (DAFFODILS) will initially be limited to books up to the size of quartos (approx. 350 mm high). They will be carried in ultra-light, high-strength cradles, made from the wonder material Graphene, which are slung underneath the drones. Ultimately, we aim to convey every type and size of Special Collections material, up to Audubon’s double elephant folio Birds of America, using multiple drones operating in unison.

Trials have shown that, with a following wind, drones can make the journey in three minutes – cutting at least fifteen minutes from travel times by road.

What happens when it rains, you may ask. After all, Manchester is well known for its damp climate. Obviously, soggy books aren’t a good idea. So each drone is equipped with an automated mini-umbrella, which activates when moisture sensors on the drone detect rain. Exhaustive testing has shown that the system is 100% fool-proof, and no damage has been detected to any book or manuscript conveyed by drone.

Orders for DAFFODILS can be placed online, using this link.

So, the next time you are in Manchester, look up – you might spot a book or manuscript winging its way between our libraries.