Libraries' new regional short story dispensers double Penn State writers' reach

photo collage of four images showing tall slender machines that print short stories on thin strips of paper

Penn State University Libraries’ Short Edition short story dispensers are now at five of its Commonwealth Campus library locations, including, clockwise from left, John D. Vairo Library at Penn State Brandywine, Penn State Harrisburg Library, Berks Thun Library and John M. Lilley Library at Penn State Behrend. With its placement this semester of five additional short story dispensers, the University Libraries now has 10 short story dispensers University-wide, including one with community partner Schlow Centre Region Library, making it both the first and largest university partner with Short Edition worldwide. 

Credit: Penn State University Libraries photo collage

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Penn State University Libraries launches into its third University-wide Libraries Short Stories writing contest, previous Penn State authors’ winning works now have twice the potential to be printed and read across Pennsylvania. The installation this semester of new Short Edition story dispensers at five of its Commonwealth Campus libraries has doubled the University Libraries’ commitment to inspire University-wide creativity and engagement with the literary arts.

The University Libraries’ regional expansion of short story dispensers and the growth of the Libraries Short Stories website and its community partnerships reinforce Penn State’s position as Short Edition’s first and largest university partner, both in number of dispensers and in geographic scope.

Student Engagement Librarian Hailley Fargo serves as Penn State’s Short Edition programming and partnerships liaison and oversees the Libraries Short Stories student editorial board.

“One thing I am really excited about with the University Libraries’ campus expansion of short story dispensers is that we chose five campuses who are very excited for the curricular and co-curricular opportunities the dispensers and the Libraries Short Stories platform provide them,” Fargo said. “Faculty librarians at each targeted campus have identified several faculty and student connections, as well as instruction-related potential.”

University Libraries-branded short story dispensers have been placed at Abington College Library at Penn State Abington; John M. Lilley Library at Penn State Behrend; Berks Thun Library at Penn State Berks; John D. Vairo Library at Penn State Brandywine; and Penn State Harrisburg Library at Penn State Harrisburg. In just their first month of use during a soft rollout period, the five campuses’ story dispensers put original creative writing into the hands of thousands of readers, surpassing 2,500 printouts. Reach of those stories often exceeds single readers, as many of the locations have encouraged sharing of prints for others to read.

Matt Ciszek, Lilley Library head librarian at Penn State Behrend, is leading coordination of Commonwealth Campus Libraries’ short story dispensers. He said most dispensers are scheduled to rotate regionally to the University Libraries location among all Commonwealth Campuses, likely on a per-semester basis.

Ciszek noted that Penn State Behrend’s Short Edition dispenser printed its 1,000th story about a month after it arrived on campus, making it the most active among the five new dispensers. Because of its early popularity at Penn State Behrend, combined with its large campus population, that dispenser may remain on campus permanently, although its position may change.

“We purposefully installed the dispenser in a high-traffic area in between Lilley Library and the Kochel Center, the home of Penn State Behrend’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences,” he said. “As the only campus offering a bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing, the dispenser was a natural fit for Behrend, and we are collaborating with faculty in creative writing and throughout the School of H&SS on ways to integrate the dispenser with the curriculum.

“Over the summer, during our New Student Orientation, we will be moving the dispenser to the Burke Center, home of the School of Engineering and Black School of Business,” Ciszek added. “Not only will this expose the dispenser to students in the STEM and business disciplines, it will allow us to showcase the dispenser to new students and their parents during the time set aside for us to highlight the programs, collections and services located at Lilley Library.”

Abington library

A Penn State Abington student shows the story she printed from the Short Story Dispenser to Binh Le, reference and instruction librarian.

Credit: Penn State

Penn State Berks received its dispenser in part because Sandy Feinstein, honors program coordinator and professor of English, received an honorable mention in the fall 2018 “Lost and Found” writing contest and initiated a conversation to bring a dispenser to the Berks Thun Library. Melissa Millar, the library’s public services coordinator, said its short story dispenser is located by the library’s front door near its phone charging station, a logical place where students and others may find themselves with some time on their hands to read short creative writing while waiting for a mobile device to be revived.

“We are encouraging students to re-post their short stories to the bulletin board so others can enjoy them,” Millar said. Sharing prints for re-reading purposes has proven popular among the Libraries’ story dispensers, even unprompted among early adopters at the University Park campus, where anecdotes quickly surfaced of students forming an informal short story club, swapping printouts.

Teresa Slobuski, Vairo Library head librarian on Penn State Brandywine’s campus, said she and her team have observed their dispenser receiving “a lot of nice usage.” Early after its arrival, she asked a few students for their thoughts about the dispenser, and was pleasantly surprised when a male student replied, ‘I like to read one each day I am on campus.’”

Laura Guertin, professor of Earth science at Penn State Brandywine, has been inspired by the Short Edition concept since she first learned about it via Twitter in 2015. When the University Libraries’ partnership with Short Edition was announced in late May 2017, Guertin was so excited, she tweeted, noting, “I used them for inspiration for a take-home final in 2015!” She also blogged about the idea of using the short writing concept for her students to identify Earth science topics important enough to be communicated from a vending machine.

“I think all of these connections are wonderful and really ensure that Penn State University Libraries’ story dispensers will be used in new, meaningful and innovative ways,” Fargo said.

She and Ciszek are excited to see how students and faculty engage with the short story dispensers, including what creative curricular and co-curricular uses may emerge, and ways students and faculty at campus libraries next in rotation to receive dispensers may be able to expand and extend those ideas.

Penn State faculty, staff and students who have questions about the Libraries Short Stories online platform, spring 2019 writing contest, or short story dispensers’ curricular or co-curricular use may contact Hailley Fargo, student engagement librarian, at [email protected].