Like picking up a pack of Oreos from the cafeteria vending machine, a new kiosk concept in partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia will allow visitors to obtain short stories at the touch of a button.
Announced Thursday as part of the Public Library Association's 2018 conference, Philadelphia was selected as one of four cities to receive a grant for Short Story Dispensers. The thin, sleek 5-foot-tall kiosks will be at three yet-to-be-determined locations throughout the city.
Each will offer one-, three-, and five-minute stories from a range of 20 genres. Stories will be spit out like an ATM receipt to users — and for free — on eco-friendly paper.
The initiative, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and in partnership with the publisher Short Edition, is intended to promote reading throughout the city.
"It creates the idea of libraries without walls and allows us to really embed ourselves all throughout the community," says Pam Smith, president of the Public Library Association. "People are busy, but this combines both technology and reading in short doses, and people love that."
Launched in France in 2015, Short Story Dispensers are a product of Short Edition, whose community of writers provides all of the stories for each kiosk. A publisher of nearly 8,000 authors, the start-up company sought to bring literature to unexpected places like airports, train stations, shopping centers, and hospitals. People could engage in reading during unfavorable wait-times, turning what are often frustrating experiences into positive ones.
Short Story Dispensaries are currently in more than 150 locations across six continents.
Now, Short Edition is teaming up with public libraries, including the Free Library of Philadelphia as well as those in Ohio, South Carolina, and Kansas, to grow the initiative.
"We believe, like food and housing, literature and culture should be accessible to all," says Loic Giraud, Short Edition's business developer.
Andrew Nurkin, the Free Library of Philadelphia's deputy director of enrichment and civic engagement, notes that the locations for the dispensers in Philadelphia are still being worked out, but talks with places like the Philadelphia International Airport are already well underway.
"I'm most excited for the surprise aspect and to watch people find joy and engage in the written word outside of a traditional setting," says Nurkin.
As the program moves forward, it will also serve to encourage writers to share their work through Short Edition's digital content program.
Currently in France, anyone can submit a written story to be reviewed by a team of Short Edition judges. As many as 150 short stories are submitted per day, from which the team chooses the best to put into the dispensary catalog. It's this database of 100,000 stories that the Free Library of Philadelphia will use to curate the 2,000 selections that go into each Philly kiosk.
"It's amazing — you'll never receive the same story in the same day," says Nurkin.
Beyond France, upcoming writing competitions will soon open up Short Edition's digital content platform to the public both here in Philly and across the U.S. Anyone is invited to become an author and submit work, and those whose stories make the cut will land a spot in the dispensaries.
"Our mission is to spread the joy of literacy to everyone," says Giraud. "We want to welcome authors from across the world to create the natural conversations and connections that stem from reading."