Next Chapter Book Club: Where Reading is for Everyone

Thomas Fish, PhD, Founder, Next Chapter Book Club /

Photo of Next Chapter Book Club meeting at Henrico County Public Library (VA), used with permission.

Through the Next Chapter Book Club, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are finding a unique opportunity to engage in literacy, socialize and hang out in a community setting - all through the power of books and reading. Program facilitators find that the clubs create an enjoyable setting that not only helps with continued, lifelong learning, but it also makes reading and fun and enjoyable experiences. Public libraries are a key partner in bringing this program to life and keeping these patrons connected.

The Next Chapter Book Club (NCBC) was founded in 2002 by Dr. Tom Fish and his colleagues at The Ohio State University. Each book club is run by an NCBC affiliate and the clubs meet weekly for one hour in places such as book stores, coffee shops and libraries. There are between 4-8 members and 2-3 volunteer facilitators who read out loud together. Each member is given a turn to read regardless of their reading level. The group reads a page or two and then stop to discuss what is going on in the book. Photo of Next Chapter Book Club meeting, used with permission.The clubs are all about supportive friendships and having fun, and the books allow members to feel respected and included in their communities. Affiliate organizations and the facilitators who run the book clubs receive training from NCBC on how to operate the clubs successfully. There is a one-time fee of $350 which includes online training for the affiliate organization (2 1/2 hours), technical assistance and access to the NCBC online portal for information exchange and materials. Libraries have used their local budget, support from Friends’ groups and other sources to fund participation.

NCBC is now in its 16th year and has over 300 book clubs throughout the United States, Canada, Germany and Australia. About 70% of the book clubs have been sponsored by libraries, like the Scotch Plains Public Library, in suburban New Jersey where head of adult services, Pam Brooks, leads the program in a community with a population of 24,000 people. In a recent interview, Brooks shared her experience with NCBC and how it has benefited both the library and the community.

How long have you been running Next Chapter Book clubs and what is the structure?

We run two weekly Next Chapter Book groups at our local Panera Bread. Our first club launched in 2008, and we added a second group in 2011.

Each group meets for an hour per week, engaging in spirited reading, conversation and highly anticipated snacks. Three volunteers, two of whom are librarians, currently facilitate the group. In the past we have also had high school student volunteers.

What does participation in Next Chapter bring to your members, your community, and your library?

Next Chapter discourages isolation and encourages member engagement in the everyday life of the community. Both our groups were started for young teens; our members now range in age from young adults through middle age. We have seen our core group “age out” of school and state-provided services; a transition time when many people with disabilities lose connections to the world outside of their homes. Weekly Next Chapter meetings offer a night out to share fun and conversation with friends in a welcoming and familiar environment.

We have watched club members gain confidence in ordering at the counter, making small talk with restaurant staff and other customers, and practicing handling money and making change for their orders. As librarians we are able to share our love of research, and you should see the phones come out when in our reading we stumble across an animal, event or place we want to know more about.

And, of course there is the reading itself. We do not teach reading, but we do share our enjoyment of books. Parents report that members who avoided reading before, now pick up books and newspapers at home and relish discussing what they are reading. We have seen notable improvement in reading fluency and comfort levels of most of our participants. Many members socialize outside of book club with friends they have made there, and a supportive network of friends and families emerges from library engagement with Next Chapter.

Serving the community is at the heart of library practice. Our library’s mission is “To welcome and support our entire community with resources and services that enhance lifelong learning.” With 4.5% of the US population ages 18-64 reported to have intellectual disabilities*, and New Jersey ranking first nationwide in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among our young people**, Next Chapter Book Clubs helps our library fulfill its mission to serve our diverse population.

When our library faced budget cuts, the Next Chapter families turned out to the town meeting, and members spoke up in strong support of our library. Next Chapter makes the library more visible to the community. When people see us meeting in our local Panera Bread, they know that the library is out in the community, and not confined to the library building.

What has been your experience with the implementation and expansion of the program?

When Scotch Plains Public Library was able to obtain funding to help six other libraries throughout the state become affiliates, we found that Next Chapter was flexible and responsive to meeting the needs of each library’s and community’s needs.

Photo of Next Chapter Book Club meeting, used with permission.

Libraries adapt their approaches to align with their local policies. For example, Scotch Plains Public Library’s clubs meet after hours at a public place, and our organizer and facilitators are unpaid volunteers. Other libraries pay their staff members to run Next Chapter clubs during library hours. Some libraries provide books for members; other libraries approach their Friends’ groups or local organizations like the Rotary for seed money. One library drew its entire membership from the developmental center located in the community, while most affiliates recruited members living at home with their families. Libraries were encouraged to contact local organizations, schools and advocacy groups to help market, publicize and gain support for their efforts.

Any final thoughts?

Our Next Chapter experience is an enjoyable life-affirming learning experience for facilitators as well as members, marking a high spot in each of our weeks. Next Chapter strengthens our library, serves our community, and enriches the lives of all involved.

Many thanks to Pam and the staff at Scotch Plains Public Library for bringing Next Chapter Book Club to the community. This program is well worth exploring as an option that can bring inclusive services and opportunities to all members of your community, and build a love of reading, too. For more information, you can visit the website at  www.nextchapterbookclub.org and join us for a September 27 webinar with NCBC, Pam Brooks, and Maggie Allbee from Henrico County Public Library. Happy reading for all!

*https://disabilitycompendium.org/sites/default/files/user-uploads/2016_AnnualReport.pdf
** https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm-community-report/new-jersey.html  

All photos used with permission from Next Chapter Book Club.

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