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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, the Oshkosh Area United Way and the Oshkosh Public Library have gathered together to help promote and research the Imagination Library Project, which is devoted to encouraging youth to read.

The Oshkosh United Way has been partnering with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library since 2008 and about 1,500 children are currently enrolled. The Imagination Library provides children up to five years old with one book each month. The program is available to Oshkosh families at no cost thanks to the Oshkosh United Way and its donors.

“We are members of the Early Learning Collaboration Council of Oshkosh (ELLCO),” said Roxanna Strawn, special projects coordinator at the Oshkosh United Way. “Dolly Parton created Imagination Library to guarantee access to books and inspire parents, as a child’s most important caregiver, to read to their children as much as possible.

“The ELLCO group identified that many local children were lacking in school readiness. Educators emphasize the fact that reading with your preschool child is the single most important activity to prepare a child for school.”

The Oshkosh United Way wanted to reinforce what they believed about early childhood reading with hard data. Last year, the United Way approached the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services (COEHS) about crafting a local study to provide that data.

According to Elizabeth Alderton and Michelina Manzi from the UW Oshkosh department of reading, this project has local, regional and national significance.

“This project has local significance because our citizens support the Imagination Library at the United Way for families in the community,” Manzi said. “This study has significance to the Fox Valley region because it builds on the goals of the New North Education Committee (the early childhood study group) linking early childhood education and advancement, especially in early literacy, to the development of a future sound economic force in the region beginning at birth.”

Manzi went on to say that the study has national significance because it shows the importance of owning a book and the effects it has on child’s literacy development and family literacy interactions.

“For the United Way, it will validate what we believe and know is true through anecdotes and other qualitative experience,” Strawn said. “For the University, it is an opportunity to publish research that can help educators everywhere. Also, the results of the research may allow us to continually enhance the program to make it more effective.”

Manzi and Alderton will gain information by identifying a minimum of 100 families, holding Imagination Nights for the families at the public library and conducting follow-up surveys and meetings with families. The research began in fall of 2010 and is expected to last for two years, evaluating the final data in the summer of 2012.

So far there have been two Imagination Family Nights, with two coming up in late May. “These events engage children and families in less than 15 minutes of data taking for the study,” Manzi said. “The remainder of the time is spent exploring puppets and mini-events set up by the library including games, puzzles, coloring centers and story-time areas.”

UW Oshkosh COEHS students have also been able to partake in the research process through some of their reading education classes.

“This experience with the very young children was incredibly exciting for our students because it brought the courses to life,” Manzi said. “The students have been amazed by the experience and it brings home, first-hand, how vital the early time of life is to the child’s emergent literacy development.”

Any UW Oshkosh students who have a background in reading and may be interested in participating in the study can email Manzi ( or Alderton ( Anyone who is interested in supporting the Imagination Library can make a donation at anytime by sending a check (or come in person) to the Oshkosh Area United Way, 36 Broad Street, Suite 100, Oshkosh, WI 54901.

By collaborating together, UW Oshkosh, the Oshkosh United Way and the Oshkosh Public Library have created a strong literacy advocacy entity and touched the lives of many deserving children. Hopefully the research will show what a great effect the Imagination Library has had on young children in the Oshkosh area.

“If a child is enrolled at birth, by the time they reach age five they will have received 60 books – a very good start on a personal library and the beginning of a habit that will hopefully last a lifetime,” Strawn said.