Bibliophiles with a taste for adventure and mystery will love the Biblio-Mat. Located in Monkey's Paw, a used bookstore in Toronto, Canada, the vintage-looking vending machine dispenses random old books. It was designed and built by designer/animator/director Craig Small in 2012 to get the attention of patrons who might normally ignore the selections of discount bins in a sidewalk sale.
The Biblio-Mat was dreamt up by Monkey's Paw owner Stephen Fowler, who initially had a much different plan for operating the machine. "Originally, I thought maybe we would just have a refrigerator box and paint it to look like a vending machine," he told NPR, "and put a skinny assistant of mine inside and have him drop books out when people put a coin in." Instead, when Fowler told Small about his idea, the animator suggested building a working vending machine instead.
Small told the National Post that he used an old storage locker, purchased for $120, to house the Biblio-Mat. (The front of the cabinet became the back of the Biblio-Mat.) The books are loaded into columns, which rise when money is inserted, until the top book, resting at a 45-degree angle, falls. A laser tripwire keeps the shelf from rising further and dispensing more than one book at a time, while limit switches let employees know when a shelf is out of books. The Biblio-Mat is powered by an Arduino microprocessor and has an on-board computer to detect the size of inserted coins. When money is inserted, an old telephone bell rings and a series of pulleys delivers a mystery book to the anxiously waiting customer.
It took Small—who looked at everything from condom to tissue dispensers when building the machine—three months to build the one-of-a-kind machine. He told the National Post that the Biblio-Mat is “kind of like a Pez dispenser, but instead of spring-loaded from the bottom it pulls from the top.”
Since its debut, the Biblio-Mat has amassed plenty of fans, among them Neil Gaiman ("A random used-book vending machine. I think I am in love") and Margaret Atwood (“This! Is! Brilliant!”). The Biblio-Mat experience costs just $2.