September 19, 2017

Penn State Libraries Launch Short Story Dispensers

Penn State Short Edition Short Story Dispensing KioskStudents returning to Pennsylvania State University (PSU) this fall will find four new short story dispensing kiosks installed at libraries across campus, along with a website for submitting their own original stories for distribution through the kiosks. Developed by Short Édition  of Grenoble, France, the kiosks’ simple interface allows users to select a story that takes one, three, or five minutes to read. Their story is then printed out on a narrow piece of sustainably-sourced thermal paper the size of a large receipt.

“Libraries are a pretty logical fit for this,” Joseph A. Salem, associate dean for learning, undergraduate services and Commonwealth Campus Libraries for Penn State, told LJ, noting that part of the goal is to foster creative expression on campus and in the broader community. In addition to units at Penn State’s Paterno, Pattee, Architecture, and Physical and Mathematical Sciences Libraries, a fifth kiosk is installed at the public Schlow Centre Region Library in downtown State College.

Short Édition was “really willing to partner with us to get student and community contributions into the platform” and is expected to launch PSU’s custom-developed submission site by the fall, Salem said. Stories submitted to the site and approved for publication after screening/review by staff or faculty will be available both online and from the five local dispensers, along with translated stories from Short Édition authors in France.

The university’s Department of French and Francophone Studies may also translate stories from French to English for the platform, he added.

Although students will be able to access and read submitted stories using smartphones or laptops once the custom website is up, Salem noted that the kiosks are an “attention getter” that will help raise awareness of the underlying program. And, paper—even in small strips—is a medium that gives readers a break from their screens and helps focus their attention, he said.

“The platform will have an online version that renders well on smartphones,” Salem said, noting that he is “a very big proponent for digital content and digital interactions” in academia. However, he added, “I also do feel that there’s something appealing about physical media, especially with art or contemplative work. Maybe that’s just my experience, but there’s a necessary engagement that physical media requires that mitigates the distraction that [can occur] with digital media.”

Launched as an online, participatory writing platform in 2011, Short Édition describes itself as “the community publisher for short literature” on its English site. The platform has generated over 13 million readings of original submissions and public domain classics, and collected more than 200,000 reader/writer subscribers, according to the company. The short stories included in the dispensers in France are finalists and winners of Short Édition’s Grand Prix du Court, a quarterly evaluation and selection process managed by a readers’ committee composed of Short Édition subscribers. Authors of these selected works are offered publishing contracts with Short Édition, and receive small royalty payments when their work is printed on one of the short story dispensers, according to the company.

To avoid repetition, a regularly updated selection of between 300 and 600 stories are stored on the Internet-connected devices at all times, and the stories are distributed in random order, communications chief Manon Landeau said in a recent interview with Publishing Perspectives.

In France, the rollout of eight prototype units in the city hall, tourism office, libraries, and social centers in Short Édition’s hometown of Grenoble in October 2015 was covered by The New Yorker, and French companies including Hermès, Galeries Lafayette, Total, GÉMO, Butagaz, VINCI Autoroutes, Transdev, and others have since partnered with the company to roll out short story dispensers throughout the country, including locations such as train stations, airports, malls, retail stores, and corporate headquarters.

Richard Riccardo, associate director, facilities planning and construction, told Salem about the kiosks after hearing about the concept on a news segment.

“He and I started brainstorming,” Salem said, noting that the concept struck them as an innovative way to engage students at the university’s libraries. “As we think about libraries being a bigger part of the lifecycle of information—engaging students not only in the consumption and evaluation of information, but also in creating their own story—this is a really fun way to facilitate that.”

Riccardo currently monitors Penn State’s five units with an online admin platform, and oversees maintenance including paper replacement when needed, using thermal paper provided by Short Édition.

In May, Penn State became the first to install these short story dispensers in a North American library, although Café Zoetrope in San Francisco debuted the first unit in the United States—and the first to print stories translated from French into English—a year earlier in May 2016. Subculture Coffee in Miami’s West Palm Beach neighborhood and the Prudential Center in Boston also installed Short Édition dispensers shortly after Penn State.

“This intriguing short story machine gives us a great opportunity to merge the innovation of today’s world with the nostalgic allure of classic manuscripts,” Café Zoetrope owner and Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola explained on the café’s Facebook page at the time. “I’d like to see the city of San Francisco put them everywhere so that while waiting for a bus, or marriage license, or lunch, you could get an artistic lift free of charge.”

Given this new effort by Penn State Libraries, as well as Coppola’s affiliation with San Francisco writers’ workshops and the short-fiction and art quarterly Zoetrope: All-Story, it seems the groundwork is being laid for high-quality English language submissions to the platform.

The libraries have already received positive feedback from students attending summer session courses in recent weeks, according to Jill Shockey, manager of public relations and marketing for Penn State Libraries.

“We have heard from our welcome desk staff that students like to reshare their printouts with friends—which we are thrilled to hear!—and have actually formed informal short story reading or discussion groups,” she said. “I have observed smiling students and visitors return for another printout shortly after they have printed their first story.”

And, when the official content submission platform launches this fall, students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community will be able to upload, share, and get feedback on their work, Shockey said.

“The idea of being able to get student work, faculty work, or even community work into an online venue [and in the local dispensers] and then…if they do well, get them in to the wider network of dispensers, is really exciting,” Salem added.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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