Sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Mary Pom ClaiborneDowntown, Our Town Youth

If you’ve heard it before, you’ve heard it a million times: read to your children. But do you know why? Of course, you know the general reason – it’s good for kids, but let’s dig in a little deeper. There’s some serious science behind Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

The years between birth and age 5 are the most critical years in brain development. When you read to a child, even to a newborn, the brain is working at warp speed to create pathways in language acquisition. But it’s not just reading. All forms of human communication help build a baby’s brain. Together with talking, singing, rhyming and play, reading helps the brain forge most of its connections (90%) in the first years of a child’s life. Having books in the home is a critical step in setting up a child for success in literacy.

The library is proud to be the administrative home of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Knox County. The mission for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) is simple – to provide well-selected, age-appropriate books to all children under age 5 at no cost to the family. In Knox County, we’ve been on the vanguard of this program since 2005, and it shows. Of the top five most populous counties in the state, Knox County had the highest third grade literacy rate in 2020 according to Chalkbeat, Tenneessee. But with only 40.2% of our students reading proficiently, we have a long way to go.

Imagination Library does an excellent job of equipping parents and caretakers to be a child’s first and most important teacher. Each book contains reading tips and auxiliary activities to deepen the experience of reading a book together. Further, it helps nurture the parent – child bond which can assist in alleviating trauma known as ACES.

The impact of DPIL on literacy is well documented. The most recent study came out of Ohio in 2021 and uses data from our research with Knox County Schools in prior years. Interestingly, the study shows the positive impact of DPIL in high poverty areas. Benefits to high poverty households track with those in more affluent areas regarding time spent reading to children and frequency of children asking to be read to. Nearly 40% of those surveyed from high poverty areas said that most of the books in their home were made up of DPIL books. (See pages 8-12 in the Ohio study.)

We are excited to partner with Food City to create “shelf talkers” to be installed in the baby food, formula and diaper aisles in all area Food City stores. Sporting an eye-catching picture of Dolly and a QR code, these shelf talkers will allow shoppers to directly register for Imagination Library. With these in place and our renewed presence at community events, we hope to increase our enrollment to over 80% of eligible children, up from our current registration of 72%.

If you are interested in registering your child to receive books in the mail every month, or if you’d like to support the program, visit our website. On September 15, we are hosting our annual Seeds of Imagination Luncheon at Cherokee Country Club to support the program. Join us!

Parents/guardians can register each child under age 5 in their household. Registering online is the easiest and quickest way to enroll, or you may complete a paper registration form and return it by mail. Forms are available for download in English or Spanish. You can also register at any Knox County Public Library location or by calling 865-215-8743.

Mary Pom Claiborne is assistant director for marketing, communications and development for the Knox County Public Library.

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