Being stranded at the airport usually means scrolling through social media, or picking up a newspaper or magazine. But those doesn't need to be your only options at Philadelphia International Airport, where a free, no-WiFi-required alternative was unveiled Friday: a Short Story Dispenser, put in place by the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The five-foot-tall, screenless kiosk is in the concourse between Terminals D and E. "We have the best — and the first, by the way — relationship between a city airport and a library," said Chellie Cameron, CEO of the airport and Philadelphia's director of aviation.
The Short Story Dispenser is for customers who "just want to sit and be quiet and have something to read," according to Siobhan Reardon, director of the Free Library.
The simple kiosk takes the phrase "at the push of a button" literally. It has three buttons, which offer one, three, or five-minute stories. Once the reader makes a selection, the machine spits out the story. With a gentle tug, the full text is released on a glossy, receipt-like scroll. The reader has no choice of story, although there is no limit on the number of stories one can take. The dispenser is available during all business hours.
Friday was the official unveiling, but the dispenser has been in operation since last month and has already become the most popular of the three dispensers in Philadelphia. According to Reardon, it provided 1,500 stories in July. The other dispensers are in the Department of Human Services office in Center City and the South Philadelphia Library of the Free Library on South Broad Street. According to Riordan, Philadelphia is one of just four U.S. cities that have the dispensers. "We are thrilled to be here," Reardon said.
These dispensers are part of a Public Library Association (PLA) project called Fostering Creative Community Connections. The project is funded by the Knight Foundation, which also recently funded the Philadelphia Poetry Slam, improvements to Reading Terminal's Filbert Street Corridor, and other projects in Philadelphia. The stories themselves come from the publisher and creator of the dispenser, Short Édition, which evaluates submissions from over 100,000 pieces of writing.
The Short Story Dispenser is part of the Free Library's airport location, which is four years old. Cozy couches, chairs, and tables are arranged in a sunny spot that is one of the few free WiFi hotspots in the airport. The spot is intended to serve as a means for people to download any of the library's many free volumes.
Riordan described the Short Story Dispenser as "responding to what the customers really want to see in an airport,". The airport is making other attempts to improve its atmosphere with literature, such as a free book exchange (take one book, leave another) with accompanying recycled-wood chairs and a wall of planters deemed a "Selfie Spot." Many concourses also feature art exhibits, from posters for movies made in Philly, to an exhibit on the work of mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar.