Governor and First Lady Halsam Celebrate UT Medical Center Partnership with Tennessee’s Imagination Library to Enroll Newborns in the Program

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam join Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Knox County Friday morning to celebrate the launch of a new birthing hospital partnership with The University of Tennessee Medical Center to begin enrolling newborns into Tennessee’s Imagination Library program. (Click here to view pictures from the launch.)

“Research shows that a child’s brain grows to 80 percent of its full size by age three, representing a critical time for language development through exposure to books,” said First Lady Crissy Haslam. “Thank you to UT Medical Center for giving the families of East Tennessee the opportunity to experience the joy and benefits of reading with their children at birth.”

Through this partnership, each family of a newborn child at UT Medical Center will be given the opportunity to enroll in Tennessee’s Imagination Library and begin receiving one book per month mailed to the child’s home until age five, at no cost to the family. Each child enrolled in the program prior to hospital discharge, will receive a gift of the first Imagination Library book, The Little Engine That Could, as a tangible example of the wonderful books that will arrive each month until the child reaches age five.

To emphasize the benefits of reading with children beginning at birth, GBBF launched the birthing hospital initiative in 2014, partnering with hospitals across the state to introduce Tennessee’s Imagination Library program to families of newborns. Thirteen birthing hospitals are now participating in the birthing hospital initiative, potentially reaching more than 26,000 newborns per year with this program.

“The University of Tennessee Medical Center is proud to participate in this wonderful initiative,” said Teresa Levey, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. “Making sure that every baby born at our hospital leaves with a book, gives each of these children and their parents the access to begin one of the best habits you can ever have – loving to read.” 

Tennessee research shows that children who are enrolled in the Imagination Library program for longer periods of time are more likely to score higher on academic assessments through early grades. Further, this research indicates students are more likely to have increased school attendance and less likely to be suspended.

“We are honored to work with UT Medical Center and the First Lady on this exciting initiative. Our goal is for every child to have books from birth. There’s no better time to sign children up than at birth,” said Bonny Naugher, Board President of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Knox County.

The core mission of GBBF is to promote early childhood literacy in Tennessee’s birth to age five population. Tennessee’s Imagination Library program is made available to all Tennessee children, from birth to age five, through a unique, three-way partnership between GBBF, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, and a local affiliate program in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

“A child enrolled at birth in Tennessee’s Imagination Library will receive the gift of 60 beautiful books by age five, and just as importantly, will gain exposure to developing vital early literacy skills, which are essential for long-term educational success,” said GBBF President, Theresa Carl. “Our goal in partnering with UTMC and others is to engage families as early as possible in helping their children develop a love of reading and learning that will last a lifetime.”

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of Knox County began in 2005 with First Lady Crissy Haslam serving as one of the charter board members. This affiliate Imagination Library program has delivered more than 2.4 million books to children in the community. Currently, 78.6% of all children under age five living in Knox County are enrolled in the program and receive books each month. Each month the program delivers more than 20,500 books to children.

Impacts of Tennessee’s Imagination Library include early language development, school readiness, and higher educational outcomes through the 5th grade. In a Knox County Schools study of 2014-2015 kindergarten students, research found that Imagination Library alumni were 1.2 times more likely to read on grade level in the fall of their kindergarten year than students who did not participate in the program. Further, Imagination Library alumni significantly outperformed non-Imagination Library alumni on all measured skills of the fall administration of Knox County Schools’ Early Assessment.