Short Story Dispensers Add a Fresh Twist to Storytelling

A university student prints a short story from his campus’s Short Story Dispenser. © Short Édition

The idea of “telling your story” is all the rage these days: you’re likely to hear it everywhere from professional conferences to self-help books. Yet neuroscience tells us that storytelling works. It paints a picture for the listener, conjuring enough emotion and empathy for them to suspend preconceived ideas and resistance for just a brief moment, in which enlightenment occurs: the message is received, understood, and felt

Stories change minds and hearts, and whether it’s through neuroscience or alchemy, no one understands this more than a community’s library. Ironically, despite libraries’ traditional function of story collection, many struggle to tell the library storyhow libraries are lively, often life-changing centers of community, technology, and innovation, and how librarians connect information (and stories) to peopleor convey the bottom-line message: libraries are integral to American democracy and must be used, supported, and funded

Enter French publisher Short Édition, whose unique approach to storytelling is helping cultivate local writing communities and local story collection, as well as assisting in telling the library story by example. Their ingenious “Short Story Dispenser,” a vending machine that offers short stories free of charge, is creating a presence in U.S. communities.

Begun in 2018 as a successful pilot project called “Fostering Creative Community Connections,” four public libraries (Akron-Summit County Public, The Free Library of Philadelphia, Richland Public, and Wichita Public) were selected to host the project and place three Short Story Dispensers in unexpected locations in their communities, including airports, a general store, a VA hospital, and a Department of Family Services office. The project, a partnership between Short Édition and the Public Library Association, and funded by the Knight Foundation, aimed to increase public awareness for libraries while renewing interest in literacy and literature and increasing civic engagement through community outreach, partnerships, and the empowerment of emerging literary voices.

Initially, stories were pulled from Short Édition’s collection of 80,000 one-, three- and five-minute stories. Now, the collection has increased to include local stories via writing contests and collaboration with local organizations. 

Three years later, Short Édition’s ingenuity continues to serve them well. In 2020, as a response to COVID, the company unveiled a “touchless cover” for the Short Story Dispenser as well as a curriculum for students who are learning remotely. To meet the needs of libraries, Short Story Dispenser now offers stories in multiple languages. In addition, a Short Story Cube, a more affordable solution to the original Short Story Dispenser, has been developed. Finally, their Storied City venture in Philadelphia is a full-scale collaboration with a force of literary and cultural organizations. Over the next month, Booklist Reader will be publishing a series of posts zeroing in on each of these topics. To read more about how libraries and librarians across the nation continue to adapt and evolve to meet patrons’ needs and to better tell their library—and community’s—stories—and find inspiration for how you can do it, too, stay tuned.'

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