Above: Students perform an original spoken word piece, "Momma Said," at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology in Mays Landing, New Jersey.
The American Library Association’s Great Stories Club is a reading and discussion program that gives underserved youth the opportunity to read, reflect, and share ideas on topics that resonate with them. Since 2006, the Great Stories Club has reached more than 700 libraries and 30,000 young adults.
From 2006 to 2012, ALA made more than 1,000 programming grants to libraries with funding from Oprah’s Angel Network. Five theme-based series were offered: Facing Challenges; Choices; Breaking Boundaries; New Horizons; and Second Chances.
In 2015, the ALA Public Programs Office received a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to support three new rounds of Great Stories Club grants for libraries. Offered in 2015, 2016 and 2017, these NEH-supported programs reached more than 8,000 young adults. Themes for these rounds included Hack the Feed: Media, Resistance, Revolution; The Art of Change: Creation, Growth & Transformation; and Structures of Suffering: Origins of Teen Violence and Suicide.
In 2018 and 2019, ALA offered three additional NEH-funded themes of the Great Stories Club: Empathy: The Cost of Switching Sides; What Makes a Hero?: Self, Society, and Rising to the Occasion; and Growing Up Brave on the Margins: Courage and Coming of Age.
With funding received from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2017, ALA developed two new themes that explore Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation. The new series are Deeper than Our Skins: The Present Is a Conversation with the Past and Finding Your Voice: Speaking Truth to Power. Libraries hosted these themes through April 2020.
These new series connect ALA’s longstanding Great Stories Club literary programming model to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) efforts.
Launched by the Kellogg Foundation in 2016, TRHT is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change, and to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism. It seeks to unearth and jettison the deeply held, and often unconscious, beliefs created by racism — including the belief in a hierarchy of human value. ALA is one of the 100 voluntary National Partner Organizations, along with 44 scholars, that participated in the 2016 TRHT design phase. Learn more about the Kellogg Foundation's Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation efforts.
As part of the Great Stories Club’s TRHT series, libraries engaged more than 5,000 underserved young adults in transformative, humanities-based reading and discussion programming and racial healing sessions.
From October 2017 to August 2018, ALA collaborated with humanities scholars, programming librarians, racial healing practitioners and others in the development of three new reading and discussion series inspired by WKKF’s TRHT process; and piloted programs in 25 libraries.
- Read the Interim Evaluation Report on the TRHT Great Stories Club pilot initiative.
- View an April 2019 webinar about the TRHT Great Stories Club pilot results
Each new Great Stories Club series on Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation engages libraries, community partners and underserved teen audiences in reading and discussing four theme-related books and participating in programs led by a racial healing practitioner. The project will engage local communities in racial healing and change efforts that address present inequities linked to historic and contemporary beliefs in racial hierarchy.
The project seeks to bridge embedded divides and generate the will, capacities and resources required for achieving greater equity and healing, particularly in the lives of young adults facing personal challenges such as detention, incarceration, addiction, academic probation, poverty and homelessness.
TRHT Advisors and Participating Libraries
- TRHT Great Stories Club National Advisors
- TRHT Great Stories Club Implementation Team
- TRHT Great Stories Club Pilot Libraries (2018)
- TRHT Great Stories Club Participating Libraries (2019)
“Last year, we were a first-time recipient (of a Great Stories Club grant). The transformation in our outreach to incarcerated teens has been astounding — from their overall participation to our relationships with the facility as a whole. We are providing better services and outreach to this at-risk population, serving some after they are released from custody and seek the library for help. Several teens remarked that they had never owned books before, and to give them books was a great job for us.” — Huntsville (Ala.) Public Library, working with Neaves-Davis Center for Children
Libraries that participate in the Great Stories Club come from communities across the country, from libraries large and small, urban and rural, well-funded and under-resourced.
The goals of the Great Stories Club are to:
- Engage youth facing difficult circumstances with powerful works of young adult literature
- Facilitate personal exploration of universal humanities themes
- Inspire teens to consider "big questions" about the world around them and their place in it, affecting how they view themselves as thinkers and creators
- Offer emotional benefits by reducing feelings of depression and isolation, and encouraging empathy through peer-based discussion groups
- Facilitate reflection and discussion of past actions and future opportunities for positive change inspired by the titles
- Establish important connections between underserved youth, their public library, and their local librarian, as well as local nonprofits (e.g., museums, universities, cultural centers, churches, adult education centers, community centers) that have proven to be important to success after incarceration, treatment, graduation, or during other transitions
- Contribute to improved literacy and changed, positive attitudes toward reading
- Inspire avoidance of future negative behaviors and outcomes in the lives of participating youth
Libraries selected to participate in the Great Stories Club series receive copies of theme-related books to use in reading and discussion groups of 8 to 10 teens; in-person and online training on humanities content; dialogue facilitation training; and a variety of programming and promotional support materials.
Resources developed for Great Stories Club grantees are free and available for use by all libraries.
Visit the Resources page access ready-to-implement programming resources including reading lists, discussion questions, programming tips and promotional materials.
To stay informed about upcoming Great Stories Club grants, sign up for ALA’s Programming Librarian e-newsletter.