Thanks to a five-year funding commitment from the Westerville Library Foundation, local children will be able to get their hands on more reading materials.

Thanks to a five-year funding commitment from the Westerville Library Foundation, local children will be able to get their hands on more reading materials.

The donation will allow the Westerville Public Library to participate in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, a nonprofit initiative started by the country singer in 1995.

The international program aims to promote literacy among children by providing them with a monthly book.

The foundation will donate $25,000 annually for the next five years, which is expected to provide books for about 1,000 children each year.

Through the program, participating children through age 5 are mailed a new age-appropriate book each month at no cost to the family. Registration for the program costs $25, which will be covered by the donation.

Ron Barrett, treasurer of the Westerville Library Foundation, said the donation supports an important cause.

"First and foremost, it promotes literacy in Westerville among preschool children," he said. "Those are future users for our library. And the foundation has been in existence for some time now, and we've never adopted a single mission. That's what we hope to accomplish."

Library Executive Director Don Barlow said the donation helps "the community much more than the library" and agreed the cause is a good one.

"Studies have shown that if parents and children start reading earlier, (the children are) likely more successful when they get to kindergarten," he said.

Registration for the program will begin Jan. 9. Participants must reside in the Westerville City School District and be younger than age 5. The library estimates about 5,500 children qualify.

Barrett said the foundation will continue to seek funding for the program and is looking into additional donations and strategies to keep it running.

"We hope the community will get behind us, and we hope it attracts additional partners that want to help to fund this for the future," he said. "We don't think $25,000 will cover every student or every young person in this age category, but we expect at this point it will serve at least 1,000 children."

The cooperation already is beginning.

"We've already been in touch with Westerville public schools in terms of how to measure this somewhere down the road based on today's standards," Barrett said. "The schools will line up with us on this."

Although groups such as the foundation and Westerville Friends of the Library often stay behind the scenes, Barlow said, the organizations and their contributions are crucial to the library's operation.

"The foundation and Friends of the Library are essential to the library," he said, "and they're allowing us to do some of the things we otherwise probably couldn't afford to do."