Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Sparks a Joy of Reading
Dolly Parton is a multi-talented, well-known face in the world of country music. But, beyond being a singer, songwriter, actress, author, and businesswoman, she’s also made significant contributions to communities across America and around the globe with her literacy program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. This program has supported literacy programs and encouraged a love of reading in over 2 million children worldwide. We all know that a love of reading needs access to a variety of books, and Ms. Parton’s contribution should get more recognition for its impact and importance.
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How Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Started
Dolly Parton was inspired to begin her Imagination Library by her father, who was unable to read or write. She wanted to take action and play a part in planting the seeds for children to grow up and achieve their dreams. She knew that oftentimes these seeds were found in literature and placed an emphasis on the importance of exposing children to books at a young age. She’s famous for saying “You can never get enough books into the hands of enough children.” This is why Parton’s program allows families to register their child from birth. The Imagination Library is a book gifting program that starts from birth to kindergarten. Children that are registered in this program are mailed free books each month until they begin primary school.
The Imagination Library has expanded to countries around the world to include not just the United States but also the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland. Since its inception in 1995, almost 200 million books have been gifted to children. Book deliveries average over 1 million a month which means children of all backgrounds get free, new reading materials every month.
Expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Dolly began her vision in her hometown of Sevier County, Tennessee. After years of success, it became replicated on a national level with the entire state of Tennessee pledging to pursue statewide coverage and looking towards global expansion of the program. A few notable achievements include adding Native American Communities in 2002 and audio and braille books being added in 2011. The program partnered with the American Printing House for the Blind to provide selected Imagination Library books to children six times a year until they reach their 6th birthday.
The state of Delaware is one of the newest to implement Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Governor John Carney, along with his wife and Dolly Parton, announced a statewide expansion of the book gifting program during August of this year. All libraries across the state are capable of enrolling children into the program and families will begin to receive books in the mail each month that have been reviewed by a national panel of early childhood literacy experts. These books are geared towards fitting the needs of children as they learn and grow. Families can expect their children to have a new book each month until they turn five years old.
Delaware first participated in a pilot launch of the Imagination Library program through five of their school districts earlier this year and expanded in partnerships with 13 local libraries. The program served 3,800 children in its early stages and, with the implementation of statewide backing, the Imagination Library will not only further the mission of the First Chance Delaware initiative for children, it will also help families engage in more library programming and resources.
There are many areas that are consistently being added as regional partners of the Imagination Library. The Ohio Governor’s Imagination Library (OGIL) recruits libraries across the state to join their local county chapter’s OGIL program. This program was made possible by funding from the Ohio state legislature in July 2019 which included $5 million to jumpstart the program. Many private benefactors have also agreed to pledge donations over the next few years that will be matched by the OGIL. The expansion has been incredibly successful and has steadily been implementing Dolly Parton’s imagination Library to all 88 counties in the state of Ohio.
Books curated for the Imagination Library are carefully selected by the Blue Ribbon Book Selection Committee. This panel is composed of early childhood literacy experts like authors, teachers, and education administrators. They review hundreds of book options to include and ensure that the books meet the specific needs of children as they grow from babies to school-aged children.
The committee focuses on prevalent themes for each age group and is cognizant about including themes that revolve around diversity, culture, the environment, self-esteem and confidence, and art appreciation. Within each age group, they also focus on concepts appropriate for the child such as touch, vision and sound for one-year-olds to science, poetry, and school readiness for 5-year-olds.
Inspiring Other Libraries
The Imagination Library’s goal to bring free books to children is just one example of literacy projects that libraries participate in. The sentiment behind Dolly’s Imagination Library is universal and many libraries try to engage their communities through book gifting events. Libraries in Colorado gave free paperback books to every four-year-old in the state. The goal of this One Book Colorado Program was to encourage families to read as well as add to their home libraries.
This literacy project was included to incorporate with their “spook-tacular” programming created for the month of October. In addition to free books for every child, there will also be community art events, and important resources for the community such as tech help, ESL classes, tax information, and volunteer opportunities. This was a great way for the library system to engage the communities and exhibit the types of resources the libraries could offer their patrons. Statewide around 75,000 copies of the illustrated children’s book “The Little Red Fort” by Brenda Maier and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez were given at and could be collected at local libraries in English or Spanish.
Impact of the Imagination Library
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been making a difference in the lives of children since its inception. Its mission is focused on instilling lifelong learning through reading and research has shown it is effective at doing so.
Studies have shown that the program creates change in home literacy environments and attitudes in learning. It not only shows that there is an increase in interest and frequency of family reading as well as stronger performances on language and literacy measures, parents have also personally reported their children’s desire for more interaction and engagement in independent reading. A study of West Tennessee and rural Mississippi specifically show that children who are participants of the Imagination Library program are also better prepared for kindergarten and are scoring significantly higher on reading comprehension and vocabulary.
Having books in the home and connecting with children over literature is a key factor in success when it comes to academics and life. The Imagination Library fosters this environment for families of all backgrounds and levels the playing field by ensuring that all children registered can easily access the books and materials they need to aid in their growth and development of valuable skills. The outcomes of those enrolled in Imagination Libraries are overwhelmingly positive and are crucial building blocks needed for lifelong literacy.