Friday, March 15, 2013

Why is the US Postal Service Destroying Brand New Children's Books?

The Tennessee Governor's Books from Birth Foundation, in conjunction with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, provides free books for children from birth until the age of five.  But there's an unlikely organization that is actually destroying some of these brand new books--the United States Post Office.
(Link to petition at the end of this post.)

First, to sing the praises of the Books from Birth foundation and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.  Parents can sign their children up for this program as soon as the infant has a social security number, and age-appropriate books begin appearing in the mailbox on a monthly basis, free of charge.  This program is available in every county in the state, which makes 100% of Tennessee's children eligible to receive free books.  Tennessee is the only state in our country with such universal participation.

According to their website, the Books from Birth foundation has mailed out over 14 million books in the last nine years.  It now reaches 51% precent of all pre-K children in the state.  Over 34,000 children, including my son, receive books in Shelby County alone.

So, what is the problem?  

Not all books are delivered as intended.  Some are deemed undeliverable because their recipients have moved, there is a postal error, or there is a problem with a mailbox.  In the past, these books have been returned to the USPS and volunteers from the Books from Birth program have retrieved them.  If the volunteers cannot locate their recipients, they donate the books to daycares, hospitals and schools.

A few months ago, David Dillman, District Manager of the United States Postal Service, decided that the Books from Birth Program was enjoying an unfair exemption.  As the Books from Birth Foundation states,

...the Governor's Books from Birth Foundation--which all Tennesseans fund through their taxes--was told that since the Imagination library uses second class postage, the returned books were to be destroyed.  The District Manager has been very clear since that the USPS does not make exceptions.  You are reading that correctly; the USPS has decided that until the Imagination Library moves from Second Class to First Class postage, they will destroy every returned book. 
(It's important to note that mailing these books first class would cause the entire venture to be cost prohibitive.)

Though only a small percentage of books are returned and subsequently destroyed, we are still talking about thousands of books a year in Shelby County alone.   Thousands of books can make an enormous impact to the children of Shelby County.

If you are repulsed by the idea of a policy maker choosing to destroy books (at a cost!) rather than allow volunteers to donate them to inner city schools and children's hospitals such as Le Bonheur, you can sign this petition.  


Here's a local news report about the situation.

One reason this story gets me particularly hot is that I taught in a school that didn't have book for its students, and I had to work hard and rely on the kindness of strangers to get my students the books they needed.  (See link here, here, and here).

Finally, because she's such an amazing philanthropist who has done so much to cultivate literacy in Tennessee and beyond, here's Dolly Parton singing "Coat of Many Colors" from "Top of the Pops" in 1979.  Just amazing.


This situation has been resolved! Read about it here.

Sources Cited

Abell, Peter.  "An Open Letter About the New USPS Book Shredding Policy." Shelby County Books 
     From Birth. Web.  14 March 2013. -  

Thomas, Darcy. "USPS Plans to Shred Undeliverable Books." My Fox Memphis.  Web.  14 March 


  1. Dolly Parton isn't the kind of woman one wants to mess with. If I were David Dill(weed)man, I would watch out for a beat down (country style).

  2. Sounds like the Post Office is too top heavy with overpaid Managers who don't value the ability to read. Maybe Dillman should be given a pink slip ( if he could read it ) and save the Post Office $150,000 or more ( adding in the smorgasboard of benefits the top brass get )