Short Story Dispenser @ HKBU Library

Text by: Maggie & Chris

This short story dispenser was developed by Short Edition, a publishing startup based in Grenoble, France. It has three buttons that correspond to the expected reading time of the story, namely 1, 3, or 5 minutes. Check out the video embedded in this post see it in action, and then read on to learn more about how we got from the initial idea to the final deployment.

Our journey to adopt a short story dispenser at HKBU began in December 2016, when Maggie read a news article about a story vending machine in France. Seeing how innovative it was and how it promotes reading, she shared it with her colleague Chris. After discussion, we came up with the idea to promote the HKBU community’s creative writings using this dispenser. We then contacted the company expressing interest and hoping to get more information. This was the beginning of what turned out to be rather a long journey!

The process of getting approval for the dispenser was not easy. We needed to make a serious effort to get the senior library management to approve the adoption. Quite rightly, other library colleagues raised concerns such as the environmental impact, the sustainability of the dispenser, and whether the money would be better spent on other technologies. Importantly, the senior management wanted to ensure that the machine would not merely be a gimmick, but truly succeed in the goal of promoting the creative writing of our faculty and students. To this end, they wanted to see concrete support from relevant Departments and faculty members. Over the following months, we spent a tremendous amount of time and energy communicating with different parties and attending numerous meetings with faculty to obtain their buy-in to the project. Additionally, we needed to negotiate the price of the dispenser and the ongoing maintenance charge with the vendor. In the end, we did succeed in gaining the enthusiastic support of several faculty members responsible for creative writing courses. With this secured, the Library’s senior management approved the purchase and we took delivery of our dispenser in June 2017!

This left us plenty of time to set up the machine over the summer holidays, which turned out not to be much work at all. The dispenser is quite literally “plug and play” - it connects to the Internet wirelessly over the cellular network, so there was no need for us to do anything too complex. We waited until just before the start of semester to officially launch the dispenser.

We still had some lingering concerns that there would be some negative feedback from the community on the environmental impact of the dispenser (HKBU prides itself on being a low-carbon campus). In our publicity materials we did our best to address these concerns, noting in particular that the paper used in the dispenser comes from a managed forest, i.e. trees that are felled for paper are replaced. Additionally, we of course provide a recycling bin to collect short story printouts, and also encourage people to share their stories with friends after they have finished reading them.

While there was one (very) persistent Facebook commenter who was critical of the dispenser from an environmental perspective, overall it seems that our efforts did address these concerns. Short Edition has been a big hit with the HKBU community, as shown in the cumulative usage statistics:

Over 7,500 stories have been distributed in just 6 months!

Over 7,500 stories have been distributed in just 6 months!

Indeed the dispenser proved so popular that we needed to order new rolls of paper much earlier than planned!

At the time of writing, we are focused on getting HKBU faculty and student content into the machine. This has been another challenge, as we are one of the first universities in the world to be using this platform. However, we are confident that we will be able to dispense HKBU content before the end of the academic year.

Our short story journey continues!