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A decorative image of about ten receipt-like printouts on a desk.
An assortment of stories from the Cube (Sarah Peet/Library of Congress staff).

Connecting with Collections: Celebrating the Story Cube at the Library of Congress

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This blog—like the program it shares about—is a collaborative effort of the Center for Learning and Literacy Engagement. Contributors to this post include Education Program Specialists Alli Hartley-Kong and Sarah Peet of the Informal Learning Office, Program Specialist Sasha Dowdy of the Literary Initiatives Team, and Educational Resources Specialist Celia Roskin of the Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives team. 

How can you hold the Library of Congress in your hand? 

In 2022, Jason Reynolds spent his final year as the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature working with schools in rural communities. During Jason’s term, the Library partnered with publisher Short Edition for each school to borrow a Short Story Cube for the duration of the school year. The Short Story Cube is a portable, standalone device that allow students to create, edit, and print their own stories on environmentally friendly, recyclable paper. 

Two photographs stitched together, showing a man with dreadlocks wearing a black shirt, black pants, and white sneakers posing with an orange and black metal box with a lip in it for printing out small tickets of paper.
Jason Reynolds with the Story Cube at high schools across the country (photo courtesy Lisa Moreleda, Simon & Schuster).

After Jason’s term ended, the participating schools sent back their Story Cubes  to become part of the Center for Learning and Literacy Engagement’s regular programming. The Cube has continued to help our audiences make connections between their own lives and the Library’s collection—for many different audiences. As Anya Creightney, a Program Specialist who oversees the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program shared, “The Short Edition Cubes were a huge hit on Jason’s National Ambassador tour. They generated over 3,000 unique, handcrafted stories written by young readers! I’m delighted we extended the Cubes’ lives, enmeshing them into rich Library programming. Every Library collection item has a story and now visitors get to take a little piece of that story home with them. What could be better?”   

Family Audiences Onsite  

The Library of Congress welcomes thousands of families annually to the Young Readers Center-Programs Lab (YRCPL), located on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building. In July 2023, we added to the YRCPL’s offerings with the installation of the Story Cube. We have distributed over 4,500 Story Cube handouts printed with Library collections since then. 

As educators, we used our knowledge of the types of content that kids are attracted to. We mined the Library’s collections for copyright-free materials that matched our audience’s attention span and interests. In addition to meeting kids’ interests, we also had to find stories, images, poems, recipes, and comics that looked visually appealing given the Cube’s unique format. Each season, we add new items that match a theme, so return visitors will always find something new when they press the Cube’s blinking button. We’re looking forward to fun upcoming additions to the Cube, including a short story by current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Meg Medina

It’s been a joy in the Young Readers Center-Programs Lab to watch children react to the collections they’ve received on a randomized basis from the Story Cube. We’ve overheard children loudly plan a “Library of Congress” brunch after printing out Rosa Parks’ pancake recipe, and we’ve been serenaded by families who printed out sheet music for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Our favorite moments to witness are when the Cube creates intergenerational bonding experiences, such as when we hear grandparents share memories inspired by ads in historic newspapers like this one. We look forward to bringing out the Cube for upcoming Informal Learning Office programs including Family Days, Girl Scout Day, and more.  

Two girls stand in front of an orange and black machine, holding up print-outs.
Young readers enjoy the Cube onsite at the Library (photo courtesy visitor Rama C, Library of Congress visitor)

Teacher Audiences

Onsite families aren’t the only members of the public benefitting from the Cube. Each year, the Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives (PLOI) team at the Library of Congress travels across the country to exhibit, present, and network at national education conventions. We promote Library of Congress resources to educators across the country. The Short Story Cube has been a new, integral piece of technology that helps to highlight the value of teaching with primary sources.  

Tailoring our ‘print outs’ to fit educators’ interests, we program the Story Cube to print teacher resources from the Library’s teacher homepage, such as Primary Source Sets, Teaching with the Library blog, and Free to Use and Reuse sets. Each conference appeals to educators from various disciplines, so we customize the Cube’s content accordingly. For instance, at the 2023 National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) conference, we printed teaching strategies related to Alexander Hamilton’s papers, the Civil Rights Movement, the New Deal, etc. Similarly, at the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), we featured resources on American Authors in the 19th century, poetry at the Library, highlighted the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and so on. The Cube’s appeal seemed to captivate teachers, with a total of 681 stories printed at both NCTE and NCSS. We’re excited to further explore the Story Cube’s potential for our audience in the future. 

Three women stand next to an orange-and-black mechanical box, presenting it to a woman wearing a backpack. They stand in front of a Library of Congress backdrop.
Members of the Professional Learning and Outreach Initiatives team invite teachers to print resources from the Cube at a conference (photo courtesy Celia Roskin, Library of Congress staff)

Library Special Events 

It’s not only children and family audiences who have loved the Cube. Last October, the Literary Initiatives Team at the Library hosted Mystery Night as part of the Library’s popular ongoing Live at the Library program. Fitting in with the theme, the public was initially mystified by the friendly-looking cube-shaped robot they saw on an event table. The inquisitive people who gave the robot a wave were rewarded with a short story, a puzzle, a trivia question, or a newspaper article about mysterious happenings throughout history.  

Over 200 items were dispensed over the course of Mystery Night, which lasted for three hours after the regular Library hours. The randomness and unpredictability of what would come out of the Cube really tickled everyone’s curiosity. As we plan for future themed nights, we’re excited to try out a new variety of possible items that the Cube would dispense for our attendees: will it be a scrap of a map, lyrics to a magical song, a mysterious riddle, a call to go on a quest? The Cube can’t help but intrigue Library visitors of all ages! 

Two photographs stitched together. One is of a table with a fancy black tablecloth and an orange and black mechanical box on it, next to a flyer that reads "Pick Your Poison- Mystery Night at the Library of Congress" with a graphic of a mug with steam coming from it.
The Cube at a special event at the Library of Congress (Alli Hartley-Kong/Library of Congress)

Whether it’s at a professional conference, a special event, or just through the course of regular programming, we’re excited to continue to connect audiences to the collections via the Story Cube. What will the Cube print for you? 

There’s only one way to find out!  

A decorative image of about ten receipt-like printouts on a desk.
An assortment of stories from the Cube (photo courtesy Sarah Peet, Library of Congress staff).

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