A short time ago, we discussed Dolly Parton’s creation of the Imagination Library program in 1995. The non-profit program, underwritten by local libraries and other community institutions, provides one free book a month to children from newborns to five years old. From its small start in Sevier County, where Parton grew up, the Library has grown to providing one million books a month to children in four countries around the world.
Steamboat Springs, in Routt County, Colorado, implemented the Imagination Library program two years ago, and as of a report this month, it’s been a resounding success. Lynn Zinn, a member of Women United, which is an affiliate of Routt County United Way and the group that runs the local program, is a literary specialist with a background in survey design. She created questions for a recent survey that was emailed to every family in the county participating in the program, with the goal of generating “meaningful responses” about its local impact.
More than 500 parents and guardians (with about 800 participating children) were sent the survey. According to Zinn, about 35% responded, which was surprising, as a typical response rate is more in the range of 20%.
Zinn says that the big goal of the program is to “encourage parents to spend more time reading to their kids.” According to the survey’s respondents, 51% said they were reading with their children either more or much more than before receiving the Imagination Library books. The rest reported about the same amount of reading.
The survey provided some specific numbers, like 95% of parents reporting the Imagination Library had an impact on their child or children’s interest in reading. One parent commented that “My daughter loves the books so much that she thinks Dolly Parton is a close personal friend who sends her things.”
Every month, the participating child receives a package with their name on it. Parents indicated on the survey that their children, even the smallest ones, are always very excited when that package comes. And 99% of the parents indicated they were excited, too.
One remarked that “The Imagination Library deepened the bond I have with my son as (we) reread his favorites over and over. Some of his all-time favorite books came from the Imagination Library.”
Relying on her background in early childhood development, Zinn framed some of the survey’s questions around reading the same book again and again. While it can be tedious for parents, she knows that listening to the same words and stories ad nauseum is “a very important developmental step” for children. Nearly 100% of the parents who responded in all age groups reported they reread their children’s favorite books quite a lot. In addition, parents indicated that their kids often asked to be read to often, especially as they got older.
The survey also contained questions about pre-literacy reading comprehension — starting from being able to identify the books’ pictures to eventually being able to tell the story themselves using those pictures. And of the program’s graduates, 60% of parents reported the Imagination Library had a big effect on their child’s school readiness, while 40% reported it having some effect — that’s 100% of the parents saying the program had a positive impact on their child’s school readiness. In addition, some families whose children had aged out of the program responded to the survey, and the results from those parents showed lasting impacts on reading and school readiness beyond the five years.
“It’s almost an impossible result it’s so good,” she said.
Zinn understands that the parents who chose to respond were likely the ones who felt positively about the program, but she believes the numbers still give reason for celebration.
Looking ahead, Zinn sees the need to continue fundraising so they can reach even more of the county’s kids. While the program is currently reaching about 800, there are approximately 1,350 aged zero to five who could be enrolled. Women United and United Way raise $125 per child to enroll them in the program for the full five years, so the families don’t have to pay anything to reap the rewards.
To learn about the importance of reading to children at an early age, go here. If you’re interested in learning more about the Imagination Library and find out if the program is available in your area, go here.
Harden, Kari Dequine. (March 1, 2020). “Imagination Library showing stellar results in Routt County.” Steamboat Pilot & Today. Retrieved from https://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/imagination-library-showing-stellar-results-in-routt-county/.