WALBRIDGE – All seven public libraries in Wood County need to come together in order for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to continue locally.
Wood County District Public Library Director Michael Penrod told trustees at their meeting Sept. 18 that the United Way of Greater Toledo has announced it was no longer willing to be a local affiliate for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.
“It really shocked me because I thought we found a way to bring Dolly to all of Wood County and have professional fundraisers nurture it into the future,” Penrod said.
Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county in Tennessee. Today, her program spans five countries and gifts over 2 million free books each month to children around the world.
He said when he first heard of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, he thought it would be incredible to bring to Wood County, Penrod said.
However, it is a zip code-based program and the WCDPL serves zip codes that are in other library service areas.
Libraries are not allowed to go outside of their service district, which was one problem, and the second was it was cost prohibitive, Penrod said.
When Fran DeWine became first lady of Ohio, her mission was early literacy. The state now covers half of the local share of the program.
The county’s seven public libraries, collectively known as Woodlink, agreed to invest $30,000 to start the program in Wood County.
It is a phenomenal program, and it is supported by reputable science that shows that children raised in homes that have books have better literacy scores and are more ready for kindergarten, Penrod said.
“Every child in Wood County can get wonderful, vetted, age-appropriate children’s literature in their home for free,” he said.
He said that the county’s public libraries all need to assume a portion of the local share of the project, currently about $55,435 annually, for it to continue, he said.
Funding will be divided based on population of each library’s service district, based on the 2020 census:
• Wood County District Public Library: 48.4 % or $26,839
• Way Public Library in Perrysburg, 19.1% or $10,591
• Rossford Public Library: 10.4% or $5,767
• Weston Public Library: 7.5% or $4,158
• Pemberville Public Library: 6.7% or $3,715
• Wayne Public Library: 4.7% or $2,606
• North Baltimore Public Library: 3.2% or $1,774
United Way of Greater Toledo will transfer about $43,000 it previously collected, which will cover the program until about May, Penrod said.
Of the 6,847 eligible children ages 0-5 in the county, 4,201 (61.4%) participate in the program.
Each library may choose to fundraise to reimburse themselves for their contribution to the project.
“The Woodlink directors unanimously agreed this is a project that can’t go away,” Penrod said. “Putting a book in a child’s hand and helping early literacy is our core function.
“We have to have all seven library boards agree to this,” he said.
Without unanimous approval, the program will not continue, he said.
“I feel very strongly that we should continue this,” said Trustee Becky Bhaer. “I think it’s a no-brainer and I think we can somehow find a way to do it.”
Kris James, who earlier in the meeting was sworn in as a new trustee, said when you give a kid a book and say it is theirs, their response is quite different than saying you can borrow this book.
Trustee Brian Paskvan said he would like to know the long-term viability of having the library foundation raise funds for the program.
The directors are very eager for it, but each library board has to approve it, Penrod said.
They have to make their own decision, said trustee President Ken Frisch.
The library’s board of trustees unanimously approved funding their share of the project.
The project would be run through the Woodlink Agency Fund, which has been used for cooperative projects.
If the state share ends or decreases, we would have to reevaluate, Penrod said.