Nearly half of the District’s children under five are enrolled in D.C.’s Books From Birth program

The District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) Books From Birth program mails all enrolled children in D.C. a free book each month from birth until they turn five. The program was launched by DCPL in January 2016 in partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program just celebrated its one year anniversary, and we thought it would be interesting to see how the program is performing now that participation data is available.

In its first thirteen months, the Books From Birth program enrolled nearly 22,000 unique children and mailed 147,525 books. The 2015 American Community Survey estimates that approximately 40,400 children under the age of five live in the District. This translates to a 47 percent participation rate for the program – nearly half of D.C.’s under five-year-old population. We were curious to see how D.C.’s first year participation rates compare to other jurisdictions with similar programs

Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis, is an urban area that has been operating a program like D.C.’s since 2005. Shelby County has a population of 937,750 (657,167 residing in Memphis) and generally speaking has similar demographics to the District.

Shelby County

District of Columbia

Population

937,750

647,484

Under Five Population

67,000

40,400

Percent high school graduate or higher 86.9%

89.3%

Black

53%

50%

White

40%

42%

Asian

3%

5%

Latino

6%

10%

Percent Living in Poverty

21%

18%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

We plotted the first thirteen months of enrollment and participation data for the Shelby County and D.C. programs to see how they compare. The following graphs show the results of this plot. (click to enlarge)

BFB Participation Percentage

BFB Participation Number

The data shows that D.C.’s Books From Birth program outpaced Shelby County participation by about 300 percent and had more than double the number of enrolled children at the conclusion of month thirteen. The District enrolled more children in total even though Shelby County has 67,000 children under five years old compared to the District’s 40,400. We speculate that D.C.’s higher enrollment figures could be related to the fact that DCPL implemented an aggressive promotional campaign. DCPL’s campaign included posters on public transit and outreach at neighborhood festivals, DCPS parent meetings, nonprofit and government agencies, and daycare providers. Shelby County did not ramp-up its promotional outreach efforts until several years into the program and did not simplify its enrollment application until 2011. Shelby County saw swift growth in enrollment once outreach efforts were expanded. The program currently has 44,250 program participants and a 66 percent participation rate.

We also looked at where D.C.’s program participants live by using the zip code of each child’s mailing address. The top three enrolling zip codes were 20011 (Brightwood Park, Crestwood, Petworth), 20019 (Deanwood, Burrville, Lincoln Heights, River Terrace, Benning Ridge), and 20002 (Capitol Hill, NoMa, Trinidad, Kingman Park). (Click map to interact)

Enollment by Zip

The top three highest zip codes for participation rate (number of children enrolled out of the total number of eligible to enroll) were 20024 (Southwest Waterfront, Navy Yard), 20002 (Capitol Hill, NoMa, Trinidad, Kingman Park), and 20012 (Takoma, Shepherd Park, Colonial Village). (Click map to interact)

Participation by Zip

We also separated children into five buckets based on birth year to look at the age of participants by zip code. We found that the largest age cohort among Books From Birth children is newborns (under the age of one) and the smallest cohort is four-year-old children. All zip codes generally follow the same age cohort patterns except for 20018 (Woodridge, Langdon, Fort Lincoln) which had more four-year-old participants than newborns. (click to enlarge)

BFB Age by Zip

What exactly is this data?

Our data on Books From Birth participants comes from the data reported to us by the District of Columbia Public Library. This included the birth years for all participants, zip codes for mailing address, and enrollment numbers for each month of the program. We excluded zip codes with under 50 participants since many were not a physical location but rather a zip code for P.O. boxes. Excluded zip codes are included in the total enrollment and participation numbers but not the participation by location analysis.

The data regarding Shelby County was provided by the Executive Director of the Shelby County Books From Birth, Jamila Wicks.

Our data on the number of eligible children by zip code and demographics for Shelby County and D.C. comes from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey five-year estimates for number of children under five years old by zip code.

One thought on “Nearly half of the District’s children under five are enrolled in D.C.’s Books From Birth program

  1. Thank you for this information. I have some questions which would make the DC data much more meaningful and which would allow for a more robust discussion about this program broadly and as an X policy intervention specifically.
    1. Top of the list: Are the books being read?
    2. Is there a link between Books from Birth participation and learning outcomes? Yes, the children are young but in ECE settings and pre-k classrooms, children are assessed.
    3. Do we have any sense of whether this program — and the reading of books to children — has a positive impact on parents?
    4. Do we know if program participants are more likely to go to the library? Participate in library programming?
    5. What are the participation goals for the program? For example, will there be a push to sign up more children in parts of the city with lower participation rates? Or, will the program do more to sign children up who live in the poorest and/or most under-resourced neighborhoods?
    6. Is there a discernable difference between ZIP code and Census tract program participation?

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