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Coffee, Snacks, LiteratureCoffee, Snacks, Literature

Coffee, Snacks, Literature

Calgary’s new public library will unveil a vending machine in the new year that delivers locally written stories and poems at the touch of a button, Mario Toneguzzi reports.

Mario  Toneguzzi
4 minute read

It seems you can get almost anything from a machine these days.

From your favourite coffee to your favourite soda and snacks, vending machines have become a natural part of our fast-paced lifestyle. There’s even a vending machine that dishes out pizza, if you can imagine.

They pop up everywhere in places that people congregate and simply pass by, allowing new ideas to be constantly dispensed in the marketplace.

In January, the Calgary Public Library will unveil a different kind of vending machine: one that gives out free short stories and poems.

A first for public libraries in Canada, Calgary’s Short Story Dispenser will provide, at the touch of a button, three and five-minute works of fiction or poetry penned by local writers.

“It’s a small kiosk. You just walk up to it, push a button and it will dispense a short story or a poem on a scroll of eco-friendly paper. It’s pretty straightforward,” said Rosemary Griebel, Service Design Lead for Readers.

Griebel said the library partnered with Loft 112, an arts organization in the city’s East Village just outside the downtown core, which put out a call for Calgary authors to provide content for the Short Story Dispenser.

“Most people who install the short story kiosk just go with whatever’s in the machine. But we wanted to source local poems, local stories, to really help feature our local authors. So Loft 112 put out a call and in less than a month we had over 100 submissions,” said Griebel. “This software program is where we can upload content. When you press one of the buttons, it’s pulling content from that database.”

The Short Story Dispenser will be installed in Calgary’s new Central Library, which opened in November and is located just behind City Hall. The dispenser will be near Luke’s Cafe, close to the children’s area of the library.

“We’re hoping that people who have a few minutes, rather than going on their phone, will decide instead to have a bit of a literary experience - sharing the city’s stories,” said Griebel.

“Initially we’ll start with the 100 stories that we’ve received but we will add to it and change it over time.”

The Short Story Dispensers come from a French publishing house called Short Édition, which was created in 2011.

“The art of storytelling goes back more than 17,000 years to the earliest known place, the Lascaux Caves in southwestern France, where ancient stories are told through painted symbols on the walls of the caves. Today in France, Short Édition is keeping this art form alive with their own modern innovation, attesting to the timelessness of literature,” says the company on its website, adding that Short Story Dispensers “are delivering fiction to the public and breathing new life into the art of storytelling.”

“The Dispensers are connecting readers across countries and cultures by publishing contemporary short stories, free of charge. Short Édition’s innovative design provides people with literary experiences in unexpected places: from train stations to libraries to cafes, hotels, universities and Francis Ford Coppola’s wineries. The list goes on and on.”

Coppola, director of movie classics such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and New York Stories, is an investor in the company.

Since its creation, the company says it has generated over 19 million readings of works and now has more than 230,000 reader subscribers to its participatory platform, short-edition.com, designed for reading on the move.

For the Short Story Dispenser, it lists clients such as Penn State University, the West Palm Beach Development Authority, Columbus City Schools, Paris Aeroport, Hong Kong Baptist University, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Griebel said there are only two other Short Story Dispensers operating in Canada - one at the Edmonton International Airport, which was installed about a year ago, and one installed last fall at Capilano University in North Vancouver.

“I think it will be overwhelmingly successful. Stories are very powerful. Everybody loves to hear a story, read a story. It’s probably one of the most basic human needs and it’s how we make sense of our lives through stories. I think it’s going to be incredibly popular,” added Griebel.

“Since humans started to communicate I think we’ve gathered around fires and told stories, shared stories. There’s something very primal about it.”

The Calgary Public Library saw the use of a Short Story Dispenser as an opportunity to build community around literature and of course an opportunity as well to share stories about the community. When Griebel read a story over a year ago about the interesting kiosk, she thought it would be a perfect initiative for the library as the unique machine aligns with what the library does and what it’s all about at its core.

A five-minute story is about 8,000 characters including spaces and the stories come out on paper that is lightweight and compact. The library is working with the Loft 112 organization to perhaps recycle those stories that are dispensed and place them throughout East Village.

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