Guest Columnist

Imagination Library's success is real for thousands of kids

Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation explains how some books that are part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program are printed in Spanish as she shows some of the books at the foundation's offices in the Cedar Rapids Public Library's downtown location in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 8, 2018. The program helps children build a love of reading and their personal libraries by mailing one book to their house each month from birth until they turn five years old. Children receive
Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation explains how some books that are part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program are printed in Spanish as she shows some of the books at the foundation's offices in the Cedar Rapids Public Library's downtown location in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 8, 2018. The program helps children build a love of reading and their personal libraries by mailing one book to their house each month from birth until they turn five years old. Children receive "Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!" on their fifth birthday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

It’s been one year since Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was introduced to our community, and since then, more than 40,000 books have been mailed to Cedar Rapids children.

The Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation introduced this free book-gifting program in early 2018. Each month, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library mails free, age-appropriate books to Cedar Rapids children ages 0 to 5, with the Library Foundation covering the costs of books and postage. This program is removing barriers to accessing books in the home.

Newly published research reinforces that the number of books in the home has a strong influence on a child’s academic performance. In short, children who grow up with books in their home achieve on average three more years of education than those who do not.

Today, more than 4,400 Cedar Rapids children are enrolled and more than 450 have graduated from our Imagination Library. These children are our future workforce, teachers, elected officials, business owners, and community leaders.

The Library Foundation is thrilled with this progress and could not have achieved this success without the support of valued enrollment partners like Eastern Iowa Health Center, HACAP, Mercy Medical Center, and YPN.

While the program is available for all families in Cedar Rapids, the Library Foundation began by partnering with nonprofits serving the most vulnerable members of our community. Working together, best practices around enrollment were established. These practices include meeting one-on-one with families to register children, holding the registration cards for Library pickup (rather than sending home with families to mail), and explaining to caregivers the importance of reading daily to their child.

Enrollment partnership is not exclusive to nonprofit and human service organizations. Any local organization can become an enrollment partner, and will find that the partnership benefits its members or employees too. For realtors or recruiting firms, free, high-quality children’s books are a sweet spot for young families considering relocation. For companies and Human Resources departments, Imagination Library is a treat to share with employees who might be expecting.

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Imagination Library is available for all families living in Cedar Rapids, regardless of income. Ensuring all children have access to Imagination Library books creates a shared reading experience when these children enter their kindergarten classroom. While their new friends might have different backgrounds, they will have all received the same books from Dolly.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is an important factor in efforts to improve children’s early literacy scores and kindergarten readiness in Cedar Rapids. Other Imagination Library Affiliates report that their enrollees perform better on kindergarten literacy assessments than non-enrolled peers. Moreover, this data shows that these children also have stronger reading performance in both 2nd and 3rd grade compared to non-enrolled peers.

Literacy, access, and inclusion are our Library’s new strategic priorities. Our Imagination Library is addressing all three by building early literacy skills of our youngest citizens, removing barriers to access books in the home, and ensuring all Cedar Rapids children, regardless of socioeconomic status, are enrolled in this program.

Our first year of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been educational and exciting. Thank you to all who have supported us as we give the gift of literacy to our children. I’m hoping others will join in our Library Foundation’s efforts in 2019. Here’s to growing a new generation of readers and building a culture of literacy for our community.

To learn more about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, visit www.crlibrary/imagination-library. To inquire about Imagination Library partnership or learn more about the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation you can reach Executive Director Charity Tyler at (319) 739-0411.

• Charity Tyler is executive director for the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation.

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