United Way’s Imagination Library: Emphasizing Books From Birth

Locally-funded program has distributed more than 500,000 books in Erie County since 2013

May 29, 2019

The single most significant thing influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to. That is why United Way gets books into the hands of little readers, from birth to their fifth birthday, through the Imagination Library.

United Way's Imagination Library for Erie County mails one new age-appropriate book to nearly 10,000 local children each month. Reading becomes a safe haven and favorite activity for young children and their families when free high-quality books are delivered directly to the home each month. The Imagination Library for Erie County is funded 100 percent by local support of United Way of Erie County. 

National research shows that the average ratio of age-appropriate books per child in middle-income homes is 13 books per child. For low-income children, that ratio is one book per 300 children.

We’ve blown up that ratio in Erie County! Since the launch of the Imagination Library in the summer of 2013 through May 2019, 615,867 books have been distributed in our community and 20,853 children have benefited from the Imagination Library, receiving high quality, age-appropriate books mailed directly to them at home.

To demonstrate the impact locally of having the Imagination Library in our community, United Way partnered with Penn State Behrend’s Center for Community Outreach, Research and Evaluation (CORE) to conduct original research on kindergarten literacy skills. The results were astonishing - clearly demonstrating that young children who received the Imagination Library books performed significantly better on early literacy tasks and had stronger beginning reading skills. This research, led by Dr. Chad Waldron, was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal, Reading Psychology. 

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Want more books? Check out this list of more than 50 Little Free Libraries in Erie County!