Focus on Spanish-Language Short Stories Broadens Community Reach

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.

A user prints a short story from the Dispenser. © O. Alexandre, Short Édition

The Glen Ellyn Public Library Short Story Dispenser became the first worldwide to offer short stories in Spanish. Here Executive Director Dawn Bussey discusses how—and details other ways the library continues to uplift the community.

For Dawn Bussey, Executive Director at Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, dreaming up new ways to reach patrons and promote literacy is par for the course. So when Bussey first witnessed the Short Story Dispenser in action, back at a Library Journal Director’s Summit in 2018, she scheduled a Zoom call with her library’s foundation “right then.” But convincing the foundation to purchase the Dispenser (which they did just months later) was only the beginning of a series of significant transformations prompted by Bussey and the Glen Ellyn Public Library over the past two years.

“I think it’s our job to encourage reading—however long or short. Whether it’s a book, whether it’s a strip of paper, whether it’s a graphic novel or a newspaper, it’s a good thing,” says Bussey, who was thrilled by the printed stories’ quality and shareability—but saw the possibility of further applications, too. In spring 2019, for example, the Dispenser in Bussey’s library became the first worldwide to offer Spanish short stories.

“We have a dual language program in our schools, where all children, starting in first grade, get a certain amount of Spanish classroom time,” Bussey explains. “As that program progressed, we got more and more parents saying, ‘We need some more content, but we need it at a little different reading level than what you have.’”

From there, Bussey knew that stories in Spanish were a must—and their unavailability in the Short Édition database was no deterrent.

“Short Édition said they didn’t have them yet,” Bussey says. “But if you know me, you know that doesn’t normally stop me, so I asked, ‘What would it take?’”

The answer? For an additional charge, Short Édition worked with Bussey to translate stories into Spanish, an option available to any interested library with a Dispenser, and one that inevitably proved fruitful for Glen Ellyn Public Library. In 2019 alone, the Glen Ellyn Dispenser distributed 14,939 short stories, and approximately 1/5 of them (17 percent!) were in Spanish.

Plus, this collaboration between Bussey and Short Édition paved the way for another exciting undertaking: short story contests. The library encouraged patrons to submit their own writing for review, then uploaded contest winners to the Short Édition archives, allowing all users of the Dispenser a chance to print the winning stories.

“You can have Short Édition program the Dispenser so that it just prints those winning stories and nothing else,” Bussey details. “We did that for a while, and it went over so well that we started taking the short story kiosk out to some of the schools. We would say, ‘We’ll pay to put six winning stories in the Dispenser,’ and we actually had one or two of the schools come back and say, ‘There’s a bunch more really good stories—could we pay to put a few more in?’”

In fact, the Dispenser was such a hit at schools that it was in one when widespread shutdowns began last March. And though the pandemic pushed the Dispenser, school visits, and in-person programming to the backburner (for 2020, that is), Bussey and her library have found numerous other ways to engage the Glen Ellyn community.

Starting on March 16 of last year, the library, which was “lucky enough to already have a drive-up window,” began “pumping free Wi-Fi into our parking lot.”

“By May 18 we had the library back open, operating the drive-up window,” Bussey confirms. And by July, the library had wheeled computers to the parking lot for public use and launched a grab-and-go program, encouraging patrons to enter the building and select their own books.

 “We’ve just progressed from there,” states Bussey, who continues to see improvements in the quality of the library’s virtual programming and high turnout at the drive-up window, too.

“We used to get about 300 people a month that would use the window . . . We now get over 100 people a day!” she remarks. “I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.”

On April 15, the Glen Ellyn Public Library staff received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And by May, the library will be open 65 hours a week, “which is down just three hours from what we used to be at,” Bussey clarifies.

In the near future, she would like to break out the Short Story Dispenser once more, circulating it in schools, restaurants, and perhaps a village-owned golf course, too. Wherever it lands, Glen Ellyn citizens can be assured that Bussey and the library have something exciting up their sleeve.

What kind of 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.

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