Short-story dispenser shares original writing at the push of a button

Short-story dispenser at Penn State Brandywine

First installed at the University Park campus in 2017, short-story dispensers are now at many Commonwealth campuses and allow students to choose from one, three or five-minute stories. 

Credit: Penn State

MEDIA, Pa. — Captured in just a few words, they provide an escape.

Choosing from one-, three- or five-minute stories, Penn State Brandywine students can read, interact and share their thoughts with the addition of a new short-story dispenser recently placed in the campus’ Vairo Library. After choosing the story length, the dispenser prints free, original stories written by Penn State students, staff and faculty.

First installed at University Park in 2017, the short-story dispensers are now at many Commonwealth Campuses.

“The idea is to create pithy writing pieces. Anyone can submit a story to the Penn State Short Edition Editorial Board,” explained Teresa Slobuski, Brandywine’s head librarian. “It’s a casual and fun way to read. There’s enough variety, so it keeps it fresh.”

The short-story dispenser was created by Short Édition, a French company. At the push of a button — selecting one-, three- or five-minute lengths — random stories are printed on-demand. The winners of Penn State University Libraries’ “New Beginnings” short-story writing contest last spring, as well as last fall’s “Lost and Found” short-story writing contest, are both available to read in the dispensers.

In between writing contests, Penn State students, faculty and staff also may submit short stories and poetry. There have been 74 submissions and all are available online. In addition to choosing the length of the story, you can also pick a category, such as humor, romance, suspense, crime, fiction, drama, children’s stories, science fiction and fantasy. Stories must be no more than 8,500 characters, including spaces; poems must be 7,000 characters or less. The Penn State Short Edition Editorial Board reads the stories and publishes them to the website. A few times each year, the editorial board reviews all submissions and selects a handful to be printed on the dispensers.

Providing people with literary snapshots is a benefit to both readers and writers.

“I’m excited to have it here. We don’t do enough reading and sharing as a society,” said Laura Guertin, professor of Earth science at Penn State Brandywine. 

While planning a take-home final exam for her introductory-level Earth science courses for non-science majors in 2015, Guertin read on Twitter about the Short Édition dispensers. The next day during a lunch trip to a Chipotle Mexican Grill, Guertin noticed that there were drawings and stories written on the restaurant’s bags and cups. Part of the company’s "Cultivating Thought" series, it was meant to share humor, thoughts and ideas in both word and design. That’s when Guertin experienced her "ah-ha" moment.

For her students’ final exam, she asked them to write a one-minute and a three-minute short read for a hypothetical Earth-science story vending machine or restaurant take-out bag, complete with references and connections back to the Earth Science Literacy Principles.

“Writing stories is a way to engage people, and to push students,” said Guertin, whose students continue to write short stories.

Now stories written by Penn Staters are being shared around the world. The short story dispenser will be at Brandywine until the end of the semester, when it will be sent to another Commonwealth Campus.

“It took just 10 minutes to set up and we received an immediate positive response from people,” said Slobuski.

During the first week of the semester, interested readers printed 166 stories. One of those readers was freshman Kyle Galanaugh.

“I’ve printed out the one-minute stories and I think they’re good. It’s a great addition to the campus,” Galanaugh said.