Parents and educators know that reading at home with a child is critical to literacy development and academic success. It also creates a deeper bond between parent and child when time is made to cozy up on the couch and read a story. Inspired by her own father’s inability to read, in 1995 the popular singer Dolly Parton created a program to provide books for young children in her home county in East Tennessee. This program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), now ships over a million books per month to five countries and growing.
I met with Blair Runion, youth librarian at Prescott Public Library and treasurer of our local Imagination Library of the Prescott Area (ILPA), and Tara O’Neill, Education and Early Childhood Program director and president of ILPA. While we have had an IL program here in Prescott for some years, it has recently acquired 501c3 status and now serves all of Yavapai County.
"My daughter looks forward each month to her books from the “Dolly Mama”! They are special to us and we read two each night before bed. The books we have received have grown her little library immensely and opened us up to new authors. She has taken some of these books with her to preschool to share during circle time, and I know we will pass them down when we’re done …, so their reach is far more than just my child.” — A participating Imagination Library parent
The program is simple and impactful. All children under the age of five and residing in Yavapai County are eligible to receive a free book every month in the mail. Parents can register their children either online or in person at the Library, but ILPA volunteers actually go to hospitals and proactively register babies when they’re born. Books shipped from DPIL are appropriate for each developmental stage, and by the time the child reaches the age of five they make up a small library.
The ILPA program was serving about 750 children before recently attaining nonprofit status, which opened new avenues of funding, and within four months the number of children served doubled. The cost to register a child is $25 per year, which is covered through fundraising. All three local Rotary Clubs raise funds for ILPA. There is no cost to parents. “Every single child from birth till the age of five is qualified to be in this program. All the parents need to do is sign them up,” shared Tara.
As more people become aware of the program, registrations have increased, so the ILPA board, which includes representatives from Yavapai College, Prescott College, NAU and the Library, is seeking sponsors to help with funding the cost of the books. The Yavapai College Honors Program started a project last year that surveys teachers on how they can best meet the needs of students. What has come to light is that teachers have teaching materials at hand, but kids need to have books in their homes. The YC Honors Program has committed to raising funds to cover four children this year, and several honors students will help administer the program as part of their community-service commitments. Individuals or businesses can sponsor a child or many children easily online, and all donations are tax-deductible.
“We absolutely love and appreciate the Imagination Library. My girls (now aged four and six) are always so excited to receive a new book in the mail. My older daughter, who has since graduated from the program, acts as a helper by reading the IL books to her younger sisters. From sunup to sundown, reading books is their first and last order of ‘business’ for the day. Thank you, Imagination Library, for making this love for books, reading and family bonding possible.” — a parent
To learn more about ILPA, go to prescottlibrary.info or contact the Youth Librarian at 928-777-1537.