Expanding the Reach of the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library

Ohio Governor's Imagination Library
Ohio’s First Lady, Fran DeWine (left) discusses the Ohio Governor's Imagination Library with (from left) Dane Snyder, MD, Gabby Gonzales, MD, and Zeke Hartman, MD.

By Gabby Gonzales, MD, and Zeke Hartman, MD 
Third Year Residents, Nationwide Children’s Hospital 

Many studies have shown the positive impact that early language development has on future school performance. One of the best ways to nurture that development is reading with children.  

Dolly Parton’s famous Imagination Library program has promoted that across entire populations of young people. Children registered for the program receive a free monthly book delivered to their home, from birth to 5 years of age. Since its creation in 1995, the Imagination Library has signed up over 1.8 million children and has distributed over 161 million books throughout the United States. 

The program has been available for Ohio families for over a decade, but it has been greatly underutilized. In 2019, Fran DeWine, Ohio’s First Lady, introduced the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library to promote this literacy program in the state. Nationwide Children’s Hospital is a founding member, and administers and promotes the program in Franklin and Delaware counties. 

Despite the new focus and Nationwide Children’s involvement, less than 10% of children cared for in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Primary Care Clinic network were signed up in 2020. Some families weren’t aware of the program; others were aware but couldn’t find the time to go through the registration process.  

We wanted more children to benefit, and we believed we could increase the sign-up rate with a simple intervention. Along with Dr. Alex Rakowsky, MD, associate director of our General Pediatrics residency program, we began this intervention at the Olentangy Primary Care Center.  

We created a business card with a short explanation of the program and a QR code linking the family directly to the signup page. 

Clinic staff and our fellow residents were encouraged to hand out cards at all well child visits for age-appropriate children. To date, 354 families have signed up via the QR code, and 30% of our eligible patients are now enrolled. The card was then trialed at two additional clinics with similar early positive results.  

In addition to the cards being distributed, the emphasis on promoting this program has led to a steep increase in overall enrollment at all three clinics. Given the success and enthusiasm stemming from the implementation of this project, the QR code cards will now be distributed at all 14 clinics in the Nationwide Children’s Primary Care network.  

Mrs. DeWine recently announced an expanded effort for the Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library to sign up children in hospitals just after they are born. We had the opportunity to talk with her about our work at Nationwide Children’s and deliver the good news of the success in our clinics. 

The Imagination Library is a huge undertaking – millions of families, millions of books. Something as small as a business card can make a big difference in the wellbeing of children too. We’re hopeful that we can continue the momentum we have built, and that many more children discover a love for reading through the Imagination Library.