Local Community Partnerships Connecting Families to Libraries and Igniting Children’s Love of Books.

Reading may be the most important contributing factor for success in school. Research has shown that people who struggle with reading are more likely to drop out of school, face unemployment and be dependent on government welfare. Given the importance of reading for a child’s success in life it is understandable that many caregivers want to read books to their child as early and often as they can. However, this is not always possible for financial reasons or limited access to local community library resources. Getting books into homes should be a priority since it allows caregivers to engage in shared book reading, which may help develop emerging literacy skills such as language and cognitive development.

This is why, in 2018, Tamworth City Council and Central Northern Regional Library forged a partnership with United Way Australia to implement the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program. From the time a child enrols in the Imagination Library, they are sent their own age-appropriate book each month until they turn 5 years of age. As well as receiving books, children who enrolled in the Tamworth Imaging Library program received a personal letter from their mayor welcoming them to the program, a library membership card, and information on local library activities such as Baby Book Time.

During the program, caregivers were asked to complete questionnaires about their home literacy environment, reading attitudes and interactions, child’s emerging literacy skills, and library interactions. They completed these questionnaires when their child received their first book (Time 1), after 6 months (Time 2), and after 3 years (Time 3). These time points fell between January 19 and November 22 in 2018. The responses provided by caregivers were analysed quantitatively (i.e., using statistics) and qualitatively (i.e., using narrative analyses). The results revealed that – compared to the average Australian child of the same age – children in the Imagination Library experienced longer and more frequent shared book reading sessions and had a greater number of books in their home.

In addition, more frequent shared book reading was associated with more advanced emerging literacy skills at age 3 years, and attendance for Baby Book Time at the local library increased by 250%. The Imagination Program encouraged thousands of families in Tamworth to join their local library and triggered the implementation of multicultural outreach programs and adult literacy classes. It raised community awareness about local library resources for families, and appeared to foster a love of books, and book sharing, in children and their caregivers.

Forging future partnerships between United Way Australia, the licensee of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Australia, and local communities, councils and libraries may provide an effective way to enrich young children’s lives and develop a love of books and reading.

Claire Galea

PhD Student, Macquarie University

Author Bio

Claire Galea is a Senior Impact Analyst and Statistician with United Way Australia and has analysed and reported on data from a range of fields including education and medical research. She is also currently undertaking her PhD with Macquarie University in the School of Psychological Sciences investigating the impact of shared book reading on children and their families with insights from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Andrea Salins

Research Associate, Australian Catholic University

Author Bio

Andrea Salins is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy, Australian Catholic University. Her research investigates literacy and math development in children with and without hearing difficulties. She is also interested in how children’s reading and math abilities interact with their emotional health.


Serje Robidoux

Adjunct Fellow, Statistician, Macquarie University

Author Bio

Serje Robidoux is a statistics and methodology expert with a background in reading, language and developmental research. Currently living in Canada, he is a freelance statistical consultant and data scientist with an adjunct fellowship at Macquarie University. Serje works with students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines at Macquarie Unversity, Australian Catholic University and the Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation, among others.


Clayton Noble

Chief Executive Officer, United Way Australia

Author Bio

Clayton Noble commenced as CEO United Way Australia in 2017, moving to the for-purpose sector after serving as an Air Force Officer and holding executive roles in major international companies across Asia Pacific. He adopts a collaborative and values-driven leadership approach with a deep sense of purpose and demonstrated commitment to systems change.  Clayton provides oversight of UWA’s management and operations to ensure success and impact.  He has an undergraduate degree in business and master’s degree in science.


Professor Genevieve McArthur

Professor, Australian Catholic University

Author Bio

Genevieve McArthur is a Professor at the Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy and Director of Research Translation at the Dyslexia SPELD Foundation. The aim of these joint roles is to help accelerate the translation of rigorous reading science into effective practice in Australia. She also heads a international research group (the PRAX team) that focuses on understanding why there is a relationship between poor reading (PR) and mental health, and how to provide practical support for people who struggle with literacy.