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Ask A REL Response

July 2019


What research has been conducted on book giving programs, such as the Dolly Parton's, on the impact of students' early literacy skills?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on book giving programs, such as the Dolly Parton's, on the impact of students' early literacy skills. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on book giving programs, such as the Dolly Parton's, on the impact of students' early literacy skills. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist."

Research References

  1. Anderson, K. L., Atkinson, T. S., Swaggerty, E. A., & O'Brien, K. (2019). Exploring the short-term impacts of a community-based book distribution program. Literacy Research and Instruction 58,(2), 84-104.
    From the abstract: "This article presents findings from the first year of a multiyear investigation of the implementation of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) book distribution program as part of one community's long-term initiative to improve early literacy skills. The authors describe (a) the study's logic model and associated theory of change, (b) findings and their connection to the short-term outcomes in the model, and (c) findings-based adjustments to the model. When compared to parent reports from the baseline year, Year 1 parents of rising kindergartners reported greater frequency of shared book reading (SBR), greater engagement with their children during greater children's interest in being read to. Findings also revealed the need for additional strategies to support DPIL enrollment and maximize family SBR experiences."
  2. Funge, S. P., Sullivan, D. J., & Tarter, K. (2017). Promoting positive family interactions: Evaluating a free early childhood book distribution program. Early Childhood Education Journal, 45(5), 603-611.
    From the abstract: "The Dolly Parton Imagination Library (DPIL) program encourages reading among families of preschool children by mailing age-appropriate books, once per month, until the child reaches the age of five. An evaluation of a DPIL program in a southern state in the U.S. was conducted to assess the impact on enrolled children. Focus groups were conducted and a survey was administered to over 100 parents of children in the program to determine parents' satisfaction with--and assessment of--the program relative to its activities and stated outcomes. To what extent the program promoted reading in the family, and children's enjoyment of reading and school readiness was explored. In addition, family communication styles and relationships were assessed relative to these outcomes. The parents reported that the program introduced more diverse reading choices, fostered their children's love of reading, promoted cognitive development and readiness for school, increased use of public libraries, and encouraged family interaction. Some differences in reading activities based on family communication styles were found. As well, parents provided recommendations for outreaching to underserved children. Implications of these findings for groups that sponsor this program and for further research are presented."
  3. Hall, C., & Jones, S. (2016). Making sense in the city: Dolly Parton, early reading and educational policy-making. Literacy, 50(1), 40-48.
    From the abstract: "In this paper, we present a case study of a philanthropic literacy initiative, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a book-gifting scheme for under 5s, and consider the impact of the scheme on literacy policy in the English city where it was introduced. We bring four lenses to bear on the case study. First, we analyse the operation of the scheme in the community it was intended to serve; second, we consider the case study as an early literacy intervention aimed at promoting reading development; then we consider it from the perspective of theories about marketing and branding; and finally, we analyse it from the perspective of new philanthropy theory. We use these lenses to help us make sense of the current pressures on educational policy-making in English cities, as city officials struggle to manage competing political agendas, to initiate reforms in situations where they have significant responsibilities but reduced power, and to maintain the distinctiveness of the places they represent. We argue for the need to reassess our understandings of the ways that literacy policies are made at the local level within this rapidly changing context."
  4. Neuman, S. B. (2017). The information book flood: Is additional exposure enough to support early literacy development? Elementary School Journal, 118(1), 1-27.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to examine the influence of a book distribution program targeted at enhancing children's exposure to information books. The research examined whether a flood of information books in early childhood settings, placing libraries in a central role, could affect growth in language, content-related vocabulary, and concepts of comprehending information text. Fifteen childcare centers in a high-poverty urban area participated in the project (N = 501): 5 centers with libraries that were infused with information books and a monthly distribution program, 5 centers with libraries but no additional supports, and 5 "business as usual" centers. Multilevel modeling and analyses of covariance indicated that although the centers might have benefited from greater access to these resources, there were no significant effects on children's outcomes. Findings suggest that both the theoretical and practical applications of book distribution programs need to be reevaluated if we are to improve child outcomes."
  5. Ridzi, F., Sylvia, M. R., & Singh, S. (2014). The Imagination Library Program: Increasing parental reading through book distribution. Reading Psychology, 35(6), 548-576.
    From the abstract: "Research has established a connection between print exposure and reading skills. The authors examined the impact of book access on print exposure via a monthly book distribution program. At 10 months of implementation, 170 families enrolled in the Imagination Library Program in Syracuse, New York responded to a survey. Results indicated that length of enrollment was associated with frequency of child-directed reading and story discussion, even when controlling for child age, gender, income, parental education, race, parental nation of birth, and primary language spoken at home. Consequently, the authors conceptualize such programs as catalysts for developing early literacy skills by increasing child-directed reading."
  6. Samiei, S., Bush, A. J., Sell, M., & Imig, D. (2016). Examining the association between the "Imagination Library" early childhood literacy program and kindergarten readiness. Reading Psychology, 37(4), 601-626.
    From the abstract: "This study evaluated participation in the "Imagination Library" early childhood literacy enrichment program and children's pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills at kindergarten entry in an urban school district. Previous studies have demonstrated that program participation is associated with greater early childhood reading practices. Results presented in this article suggest that program participation is also positively and significantly associated with higher early language and math scores, even after controlling for other key factors associated with kindergarten readiness. These results offer support for policy interventions designed to advance kindergarten readiness by increasing access to early literacy materials for families with young children."
  7. Singh, S., Sylvia, M. R., & Ridzi, F. (2015). Exploring the literacy practices of refugee families enrolled in a book distribution program and an intergenerational family literacy program. Early Childhood Education Journal, 43(1), 37-45.
    From the abstract: "This ethnographic study presents findings of the literacy practices of Burmese refugee families and their interaction with a book distribution program paired with an intergenerational family literacy program. The project was organized at the level of Bronfenbrenner's exosystem (in "Ecology of human development". Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1979) to effect a change at the immediate level of the microsytem (i.e., the child's home life). These two programs--Imagination Library and Storycircles--were organized by the local Literacy Coalition in a Central New York community in the United States in order to assist the refugee families to transition into their new sociocultural context and increase their involvement in the school-based education of their children. Participant observations and interviews with parents and program providers indicated that, while the family literacy practices mostly centered on oral traditions, participation in the two programs led to the familiarity and use of print-based forms of literacy. Additionally, parents reported an interaction with books that were reaching their homes and consciously modeling the shared reading practices demonstrated by the program providers. The linguistic and cultural barriers are discussed in light with the pedagogical implications of the study in finding ways to provide culturally responsive instruction."
  8. Waldron, C. H. (2018). "Dream more, learn more, care more, and be more": The imagination library influencing storybook reading and early literacy. Reading Psychology, 39(7), 711-728.
    From the abstract: "This study examined the free book giving program of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and its influence upon storybook reading and early literacy within one county-wide setting in the United States. Family literacy and early literacy experiences are known to be critical to young children's literacy development. The study found that children who received the Imagination Library books were statistically different from those children who did not participate in the free book giving program. This study has implications for the early literacy outcomes for young children and their families, as well as other communities who utilize Dolly Parton's Imagination Library."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Book giving programs
  • Early literacy

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.