With a shared community goal of “every child in our community will be ready for kindergarten,” in April 2017 the library and the United Way of Greater Topeka partnered on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which mails a free age-appropriate book every month to enrolled children birth to age 5. All children under 5 years old in Shawnee County are eligible regardless of household income. Our goal is to create a more literate community for whom reading is an essential part of life.
Access to books is especially problematic for children living in poverty. It is estimated one child living in a middle-upper income household has on average 13 books of their own, where in low income communities there is one book for 300 children. With the Imagination Library all children enrolled at birth will have at least 60 books of their own when they turn 5.
Imagination Library books are selected by a blue-ribbon panel with representatives from education, child development, academia and early childhood literacy expertise. The books incorporate specific themes targeting age-appropriate developmental milestones. New titles are introduced each year to avoid duplication of books older siblings may have received.
A recently released research report that summarized several different studies of the program concluded children who participate in the Imagination Library score 28 percent higher on kindergarten readiness measures than non-participants. Morgan County Schools in Georgia saw their kindergarten readiness scores increase from 46 to 90 percent after three years of the Imagination Library.
Year 1 Results
The Imagination Library has been a success in Shawnee County enrolling 60 percent more children than the Dollywood Foundation, who runs Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, estimated would enroll by the end of the first year. Grants and contributions from individuals and businesses to support this program have enabled more children to participate and receive books mailed directly to their homes. All donations and grants received are used only for direct program expenses of purchasing and mailing books to children.