Nation’s First-Ever Short Story Cube Sparks Excitement at Illinois Libraries

This blog post is part of an ongoing series made possible by a partnership between Short Édition, the Knight Foundation, and the Public Library Association.

Joel Shoemaker, Library Director at Illinois Prairie District Library, first heard about the Short Story Dispenser at a library conference. The Dispenser, the brainchild of French publishing house Short Édition, is a one-of-a-kind printer delivering one-, three-, or five-minute-long stories to users in over 300 locations across the world, free of charge. An innovation, to be sure, but not exactly the endeavor and added expense Shoemaker had in mind as he planned for ongoing renovations, including the construction of a new branch, all in the midst of the current pandemic. Then Shoemaker heard about Short Édition’s latest invention, the Cube.

A smaller, more affordable, and completely transportable alternative to the original Dispenser, the Cube offers the same extensive catalog of stories as its predecessor via two touch-free buttons. Each story is printed on demand (no ink or cartridges are necessary) onto FSC-certified, BPA-free, recyclable paper the width of a CVS receipt.

“When I saw the Cube—I have six branches—I thought, ‘Well that’s perfect,’” says Shoemaker, whose Germantown Hills branch became the first library in the nation to welcome the Cube this past March.

“It’s transportable, it’s less expensive, and I also think it’ll be perfect for our outreach efforts once we’re post-COVID, with schools and nursing homes.”

The Short Story Cube deployed at Germantown Hills Public Library, featuring short stories for adults and children.

Like most libraries across the country, the libraries in Shoemaker’s district are operating at reduced capacity, relying on virtual programming and “grab-and-go” services to connect patrons and resources. But that hasn’t slowed the momentum of the Cube, which Germantown Hills Public Library staff displayed in a higher-traffic area between the patron computers and circ desk. In fact, in just one month, patrons of Germantown Hills, the busiest of the six branches Shoemaker oversees, printed over 100 short stories, choosing from a selection of flash fiction for both children and adults.

“It’s been really good for us to have something like this during the pandemic to kind of make people excited,” Shoemaker says. And in the coming months, the excitement will only continue. For the entire month of April, for example (National Poetry Month), the Cube will be stationed at the more rural Spring Bay branch.

“The librarian that works there is also a poet,” Shoemaker explains. “I thought it’d be fun for Poetry Month and, of course, we changed the cube to print poetry, so that’s what comes out. There’s a button for classic poetry and a button we’re calling modern poetry, because “contemporary” is too large a word. Then there are chalk markers, so you can draw on the Cube itself what the buttons are.”

As evidenced by the erasable chalk markers, the Cube’s content is meant to be completely customizable, updating and transforming with a library’s programming initiatives, other monthly celebrations, or each new location it visits. And for Shoemaker and the Illinois Prairie District, this journey is just beginning.

Library Director Joel Shoemaker poses with a short story printed directly from the Cube.

“If we do one month at a time at each branch, each branch is going to see it twice a year,” he says. But the Cube won’t be limited to the walls of these six libraries; as more locations lift COVID restrictions, Shoemaker would like it to make appearances across the community: “If we have an event at a school or a nursing home, we’ll take it out of that branch, bring it to that place, and then put it back in the branch after. And it’s hopefully always going to feel a little bit new and exciting when it gets there.”

Plus, when patrons can return to the library for in-person visits and live events, Shoemaker predicts the Cube will spark a slew of engaging programming efforts. From pop-up story times to blackout poetry fashioned from a freshly printed poem, there’s no shortage of possibilities.

“It’s no more expensive than a year of a World Book Online,” Shoemaker clarifies. “And with the spontaneous joy it creates in the patron experience, it’s such a fun, novel tool, and it does a great job at promoting literacy, so I think it’s definitely worth it. It’s definitely been worth it for us.”

What kind of exciting changes have you or your library implemented in the past year? Let us know @ALA_Booklist. And for more about how libraries across the country are using the Short Story Dispenser to engage their communities, check back next week!

About the Author:

Briana Shemroske is Booklist's Marketing Associate. She graduated with a BA from Lake Forest College where she studied English Writing and Art History. In her free time she can be found eating cheeseburgers, frolicking with her schnoodle, Moritz, and feebly attempting to play board games. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Briana.

1 Comment on "Nation’s First-Ever Short Story Cube Sparks Excitement at Illinois Libraries"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. What an innovative and great idea!!! Joel is so creative and fun!
    Thanks so much for sharing this fabulous invention with other libraries!

Post a Comment