Delaware’s Imagination Library program expands with bilingual book collection

A literacy initiative beginning four years ago has reached 58% of Delaware's children. Now, a bilingual book collection enhances the program in both English and Spanish.

Books on a shelf

Books on a shelf (Pexels)

Four years ago, Delaware took its first steps in transforming young minds with the pilot efforts of the Imagination Library program. With the support of the Dollywood Foundation and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the program now spans statewide, instilling a passion for reading in children. Recently, the program has expanded its reach with an additional feature: a bilingual book collection.

Gov. John Carney and first spouse Tracey Quillen Carney took the initiative to launch the pilot program, aiming to improve and strengthen children’s literacy and development.

“We’ve been looking forward to the bilingual expansion of the Imagination Library program,” she said. “Early language experiences are so essential to healthy brain development and school readiness. Those interactive experiences also contribute to healthy attachment between children and their parents and other caring adults, which is another essential foundation for a promising future.”

Since its inception, State Librarian Dr. Annie Norman notes that the program has nearly reached 60% of the children’s population, which the foundation considers as a success.

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“Well, when we started, [the Dollywood Foundation] said that they consider 60% to be a success, I think they’re saying 65% now,” she said. “So far we have about 58% of the children registered. And of course, our goal is 100%.”

Librarians stepping in to register children under 5 for free monthly books has been pivotal in boosting the program’s success. An essential aspect of this success is the partnership with hospitals, as they facilitate the enrollment of newborns in the program.

Despite the program already offering two bilingual books annually, it fell short of meeting the demand. Norman highlighted the critiques from caregivers and parents, who had been vocal about the absence of bilingual materials in Delaware libraries.

“When we first launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, one of the first questions I got — or frankly a criticism — was that it wasn’t bilingual,” she said. “There was actually always at least two books a year that were bilingual, but they really wanted the whole program to be bilingual.”

“Delaware is in the next group of five states that are getting the bilingual option, which is super cool,” she added.

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Other states benefiting from the expanded bilingual collection include Tennessee, where Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library originated, as well as Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Ohio.

The push for bilingualism began in California, where the large and diverse population made it a priority. Recognizing this need, many states advocated for the inclusion of bilingual options, too. Hence, the foundation took that need and expanded its bilingual collection beyond California, recently adding Delaware to the list.

Delaware residents can register their children for free books online or at their closest public library, choosing between two options: receiving monthly books in English with occasional bilingual English and Spanish titles, or opting for all books in a bilingual English-Spanish format.

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