Get a little lit with the Short Story Dispenser

The word most people use to describe it is “cool.”

Yes, there is a cool new interactive machine near the Banjo Coffee shop on Level 1 of Woodruff Library – a Short Story Dispenser. The dispenser is an Emory Arts project to highlight poems, prose, and comics by Emory authors, particularly students, as well as literature from writers around the world.

Junior Kacey Gu and her friends print out selections from the Short Story Dispenser.

The dispenser is already a hit: In just its first week in the library, the dispenser saw 1,000 uses. Students, instructors, staff, and visitors are invited to use it; it’s an ideal way to pass the time if you’re waiting before an appointment or meeting, enjoying a coffee or study break, or taking a breather from your cellphone.

Those at Oxford College or another Emory site away from the Atlanta campus can still get a short story boost by reading selections on this Emory Short Story Edition webpage, where creative entries from the Emory community can also be submitted.

Maggie Beker, an Emory Arts project coordinator focused on student engagement, discovered the Short Story Dispenser while searching online for ways that creative students can share their work and receive recognition. She says works by students in the performing and visual arts are traditionally easier to share through performances and exhibits.

“I started thinking, how can our students who are writers share their work?” Beker says, especially in a more public way. Literary magazines may have too narrow of an audience, and the possibility of rejection is daunting to students. With the Short Story Dispenser, students don’t need to worry whether their piece is the right fit for a particular journal or wait to be published if their submission is accepted, and they can submit more than one piece at any time.

“This machine is great. It lowers the barrier for students to get published as opposed to traditional lit magazine submission opportunities, because we’re accepting any genre and submissions are always open,” says Beker.

Emory Libraries is the first home for the Short Story Dispenser on the Emory campus. Emory University owns the dispenser, which will be moved to different campus locations to reach different campus audiences. It will stay on Woodruff Library’s lower level through late April, then move to the library’s main floor or another high-visibility spot on campus during Commencement Weekend.

Students, faculty, and staff love the touchless story dispenser, and many have stopped in the library specifically to try it out. Patrons can get a mental refresher and choose a 1-, 3-, or 5-minute story, or a poem, which prints out on a scroll of paper. Keeping sustainability in mind, Beker chose a refurbished machine that also uses recycled, recyclable paper.

“I had to try out the Short Story Dispenser, and it’s fun,” says Lisa Macklin, associate vice provost and university librarian. “With the wave of a hand, the story dispenser will print out a short piece of creative writing on sustainably sourced paper. It’s a surprise since you have no idea what your story will be about, and the story provides a few moments of fun or reflection.”

Sophomore Lily Hollenberg awaits her creative read.

“I printed out a short poem about a young girl’s relationship with her family,” says Lily Hollenberg, a sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies major. “I had already heard about the story dispenser, and I enjoy reading and writing short stories and poems, so I thought it would be fun to take one. I think it’s great having the dispenser on campus, especially in the library to take advantage of during a study break. I don’t want to submit anything myself, but I think it’s great that there’s an option for students to have their work read.”

According to its website, the company, Short Édition, is “a French publishing house of short literature: poetry, short stories, and flash fiction. In addition to our online platform, we publish fiction around the world via our Short Story Dispensers for the public to enjoy a serendipitous literary experience, free of charge.” The company has placed dispensers in libraries, airports, hospitals – anywhere there is people traffic and the element of waiting or needing to take a mental break.

The Emory campus is the first dispenser location in the Atlanta metro area, and only the second in Georgia (the other one is at Thomas County Public Library in Thomasville, Georgia, 35 minutes from the Florida state line).

“The Short Story Dispenser provides students an opportunity to read a story as they take a break from studying and computer screens. We can all benefit from the creative arts, and this is a way to bring stories directly to students, solely for their enjoyment,” Macklin says. “We’re happy the Emory Libraries can be the first home on campus for something that brings so much joy to the Emory community.”

Once the Short Story Dispenser accumulates a robust archive of Emory-written stories, one of its buttons can be re-programmed so patrons can choose an Emory story, Beker says. There are already several poems and short stories written by Emory authors, she adds.

“It is a genius way to connect art, literature, and technology, and it’s a nice stress-relief corner in the library,” says Kacey Gu, a junior majoring in art history and philosophy who received a poem about clouds. “I will definitely submit my own writings if it allows submissions in different languages. It is super easy to translate with current technology, and I think it will be fun if we can submit works in our own language, while receiving a short story in other languages.”

Emory students Ethan Sun, Anjanay Nangia, Evan Bellusci, and Dylan Sun display their printouts from the Short Story Dispenser, ready for their next study break.

“I think it’s a fabulous chance to expose writers that are hard to encounter otherwise,” says junior Christian Tang, who is pursuing a BBA in finance and applied math and statistics major. “I may submit my own writings, but since I’m not the kind of person to publicly share my work, it will be great if there is an anonymous option.”

Good news: Beker checked with Short Édition, and yes, you can submit stories anonymously and in non-English languages.

For more information about the Short Story Dispenser, contact Maggie Beker at mbeker2 [at] emory [dot] edu.

—by Maureen McGavin, Emory Libraries senior writer


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