This March, the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) started a new initiative called Ready. Set. Read!
The free program, a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, gives one book a month to children enrolled in the program until they turn five years old.
“It’s a way for [families] to… start building a home library for their kids,” explains Elaine Jones, EPL’s youth services manager.
Currently, families in 13 Edmonton neighbourhoods are eligible to enroll in the initiative. Residents in Cromdale, Eastwood, Elmwood Park, and Parkdale are eligible for the program. And after July 11, EPL is expanding the program into seven additional neighbourhoods, including Delton.
“In a perfect world, we would offer [eligibility] to everyone in Edmonton because we believe in it so strongly,” says Jones, “but we really had to… focus and so we were trying to get it into communities where we knew [the need] might be a little greater.”
“We recognize that some families, they have real barriers to building up their own home collection of books and also even getting to the library and using our free resources,” continues Jones. “We decided that it was important to do what we can give back to the community in this way, and so we established Read. Set. Read!”
EPL consulted with community partners, especially schools, to determine which neighbourhoods would be best served by the program. Data about library card use and the average number of book purchases in a home was also used.
Currently, about 230 families are signed up for the program, and EPL hopes to get 1,500 signed up in total.
A wide range of different books are available for children, and children will always be given books that are developmentally age appropriate. A few books on the 2022 list include Hugo and the Impossible Thing, Albert’s Quiet Quest, A Story for Small Bear, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eats Breakfast: A Counting Book.
Encouraging early literacy in children is crucial, explains Jones, since a strong literary foundation will promote strong learning later in life. “For example, preschoolers who are read to at least three times a week, and who know their alphabet when they enter kindergarten, have better reading skills even in the tenth grade,” says Jones.
“It is just really, really important because we know that those first five years are so critical,” continues Jones. “That’s when the kids’ brains are developing and so much [of those years] is laying the groundwork for their formal education. So as much as we can enrich that time period, the better.”
Jones says she hopes that people will become more comfortable with the public library through this program, and access more of EPL’s free resources. When more families are signed up for Ready. Set. Read!, EPL plans to hold in-person programs that cater to those families.
“At EPL, we’re always trying to reduce those barriers of access [to the library],” says Jones. “We aren’t saying that this [program] replaces access to the public library. We think [Ready. Set. Read! is] an important piece to help build that comfort and familiarity with language and literacy and books and how they’re used in the home.”
“We’re really trying to maximize our efforts and concentrate them to really make an impact in these neighbourhoods,” says Jones.
Register for the program online at imaginationlibrary.com/ca/affiliate/ABEdmontonPublicLibrary/ or fill out a physical registration form at your local EPL branch. For more information about the program, visit www.epl.ca/ready-set-read/.