This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 18 January 2014.
Yes, Dolly Parton. Not your usual topic for a finance column. Unless of course we are talking about insurance and the fact that Dolly’s well-known bosom is reportedly insured for $600,000. Dolly’s insurance broker definitely earned his or her fee, as placing an accurate value on Dolly’s ‘assets’ must have been a challenge. No, this column is about one of Dolly’s lesser-known, but far more worthwhile achievements, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Launched by Dolly in 1996, the Imagination Library’s aim is to send every newborn child a free book a month until they reach age 5. The objective is to foster childhood literacy, hopefully leading to better educational outcomes for those children who participate in the program. Each book is mailed to the child’s home and is tailored to the child’s age. It’s probably no surprise to hear that research has shown that early exposure to books results in improved childhood literacy and higher literacy levels later in life.
Active in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and only very recently in Australia, the library has sent over 40,000,000 books to children since 1996. The Australian arm of the library was only launched in May 2013. An early problem encountered by staff at the library was the fact that books in Australia are significantly more expensive than in the US, Canada or the UK. Despite this handicap, at the moment there are 1,315 children in Australia who are registered to receive a book per month from Dolly’s Imagination Library. Only a few towns and suburbs are currently signed up to the program, limiting the opportunities for children to be part of the Imagination Library. The program relies on the support of the local community, both in terms of organisation and administration, and for financial assistance. It’s not hard to imagine the benefit that participation in the Imagination Library program would have on young children in our local community (or any community for that matter). There are certainly many existing childhood literacy programs, ranging from intensive tutoring to hour-long reading sessions at the local library. One of the difficulties faced by these programs however, is that they require a level of effort and commitment by parents. They have to be willing to take their children to the local library or community centre each week or month. A free book arriving in the post each month requires far less involvement by parents – unwrap the parcel, open the book and start reading to your child. No hassle, no fuss. Take a look at the library by going to their website at http://au.imaginationlibrary.com. If you like what you see, perhaps we need to see if we can bring the Imagination Library here?