This fall, BYU is offering the campus community a new way to get their literary fix.
Thanks to an initiative by the College of Humanities, the library’s ground-floor thoroughfare recently gained a short story dispenser. A second dispenser, currently stationed near the Cougareat in the Wilkinson Center, will be taking a tour of campus over the next few weeks.
Produced by the French nonprofit Short Édition, the devices are akin to vending machines, but instead of dropping a snack, they print out brief stories, poems and essays on rolls of receipt paper. Stocked with eco-friendly paper, the machines are both cost free for users and (importantly, these days!) touch free.
“The short story dispensers provide an innovative, whimsical approach to literature,” said BYU English professor and College of Humanities Associate Dean Leslee Thorne-Murphy, who spearheaded the project.
Using the BYU dispensers, patrons can choose a one-, three- or five-minute read and receive a randomly selected work of literature. They may get a familiar classic or a contemporary piece they’ve never before encountered.
Thorne-Murphy first saw the machines in a London urban mall last year, where busy professionals would tear off stories and scurry away to read them on the Tube.
“Obviously it was an alternative to having a phone glaring in your face,” she said. “In a way that is conducive to modern life, the dispensers give us short, compelling works of literature that make us pause and actually pay attention to a piece of paper. It’s both delightfully retro and forward-thinking.”
“The dispensers bring serendipity back into life,” added College of Humanities Dean Scott Miller. “You can see the world through a new perspective by way of a story or poem that is randomly selected, rather than algorithmically generated for your particular digital signature.”
In their dispensers worldwide, Short Édition also publishes student-written work selected through regular writing contests. To celebrate the arrival of the dispensers on campus, BYU students are especially encouraged to submit entries to this year’s contest (details can be found here). The dispensers may also eventually feature a corpus of short works written and edited by BYU faculty and students, as well as stories in a variety of other languages.
Besides being fun, Thorne-Murphy said, the short story dispensers are a great way to “showcase the skills taught in the College of Humanities, such as creative writing, the study of languages, editing and translating.”
In fact, our campus community as a whole excels in these skills.
“Well trained in languages, cultures and ideas, BYU students are uniquely poised to appreciate literature,” Thorne-Murphy observed. “You may not have time mid-semester to read a long Dostoevsky novel, but you can grab a story on a study break and just spend a moment enjoying the narrative.”