The American Library Association (ALA) defines outreach as providing library services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented populations; populations such as new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, and teens who are incarcerated. As these populations are often marginalized and underserved, it is crucial for libraries to recognize these populations and provide services and programs to them where they are.

The YALSA Futures Report calls out the importance of outreach to underserved populations and ways in which library staff can think about ways to work with targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other inschool locations) and where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.

This month I interviewed Lainie Castle, Project Director, Public Programs Office American Library Association. Most specifically we talked about her work with the Great Stories Club.

1.How do you see theGreat Stories Club (GSC) as a way for librarians to work with underserved populations?

There are two important ways that we see the Great Stories Club (GSC) supporting librarians’ efforts to work with underserved young adults. First, we hope the grant opportunity provides an impetus for librarians to reach out to other community organizations that are deeply engaged with teens who are facing specific difficulties, such as detention or incarceration, homelessness, drug or alcohol treatment, or other disciplinary or academic challenges. Fostering and helping to sustain these outreach partnerships brings specialized literary programming services to young people who might not otherwise have that opportunity. Because the GSC is a national program, with the involvement of both ALA and the National Endowment for the Humanities, it can sometimes help make the case for new or reinvigorated outreach efforts.

Second, the GSC provides a tightly curated set of programming resources that are designed to support an in-depth reading and discussion experience grounded in humanities scholarship. Each series has been created to be more than just an average book club, going beyond more standard questions about characters and plot to facilitate readers’ personal exploration of universal humanities themes, like the role of art in making and coping with change. The program seeks to inspire teens to consider “big questions” about the world around them and their place in it and, by offering programming space in which they can work through these questions with their peers and caring adults, to have a positive impact on self-concept. We want GSC readers to view themselves not just as readers, but also as thinkers and creators with important contributions to offer to the world around them.

2. Do you have some success stories of libraries that began working with a particular population/organization for theGreat Stories Club (GSC) and they continue to work together?

We are fortunate to work with many libraries that developed a new partnership in order to participate in the Great Stories Club, and are still working with those community organizations to serve teens, either in between GSC grants or after their grant term ended. Other GSC library programs have expanded with local support, due to initial participation in the grant. A few examples* include:

  • Sequoyah Regional Library System in Canton, Georgia developed an ongoing partnership with the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • Berkeley Public Library and Berkeley Technology Academy renewed a lapsed partnership because of the GSC, and now work together on a locally funded weekly book club that’s ongoing.
  • Athens-Clarke County Library in Athens, Georgia partnered with the local jail, and now facilitates a twice-monthly book club there, funded by a private individual donor.
  • Glen Carbon Library in Illinois began partnering with the Madison County Detention Center through a GSC grant in 2009, and continued through several rounds of GSC grants while also developing other specialized programming including STEAM sessions and visits with therapy dogs.
  • Antelope Lending Library in Iowa City, Iowa partnered with the John McDonald Residential Treatment Center for Girls for the GSC, and has been able to continue reading and discussion programming with support from a local used bookstore that donated materials, and a local women’s reading group that donated funds to support travel (since the facility is about an hour away from the library).
  • The Juneau Public Library’s program with the Johnson Youth Center in Alaska was so successful with the treatment side of the juvenile justice facility that the librarian was invited to expand programming to the detention side.
  • The Hastings Ninth Grade Center in Houston, Texas has done several successful GSC series with their alternative campus (the Campus Learning Center), and the librarian presented a proposal to the school board this month, for expansion of the program district-wide to 11 other campuses.

3.How do you see libraries doing more work outside of libraries with underserved and underrepresented populations and do you have any recommendations for doing so?

For those who are looking to do more work outside their library with underserved populations, there are some resources on the Great Stories Club website that might be helpful. We have complete information for three NEH-funded series and five Oprah’s Angel Network-funded series that include reading lists, framing essays, discussion questions, certificates of completion for teens, customizable posters and bookmarks, supplemental reading lists, and other general programming ideas such as tips on establishing an outreach partnership, a list of reference books about library service to at-risk teens, tips for managing challenges with reading levels and engagement, and more. In addition to our wonderful national project advisors (for current and future themes), ALA PPO is fortunate to have a closed discussion list with more than 100 librarians who work on GSC grants and are amazing sources of knowledge and experience. If you would like to pose a question to the group, please email it to and our staff would be happy to share it and return a response.

*With thanks to the GSC project directors who shared their stories for the post above, including Angela Glowcheski (Sequoyah Regional Library System), Andrea Mullarkey (Berkeley Public Library), Priscilla Lewis (Athens-Clarke County Library), Magi Henderson (Glen Carbon Library), Cassandra Elton (Antelope Lending Library), Amelia Jenkins (Juneau Public Library), and Charla Hollingsworth (Hastings Ninth Grade Center).



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