June 23

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: The Seeds of Dreams

Since 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been delivering books – free of charge – to kids from birth until they reach five years of age. The Imagination Library started with an ideation of fostering love of reading, and through the years, it has grown into a full-fledged community. With Dolly Parton at the helm as the “Chief Inspiration Officer,” an amazing core team of 15, and a vast and growing network of partners and thousands of volunteers, the program has already gifted over 159 million free books as of May 2021. 

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From Humble Beginnings: How It All Began

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was inspired by her hardworking father, Robert Lee Parton, who did not know how to read and write. And so, she wanted kids to have access to books which she believes hold the seeds of dreams like she once had growing up in the hills of East Tennessee. She wanted to foster the love of reading early on; that was why every kid from birth until they turn five years old would receive a book from their library regardless of the family’s income.  

With that, she launched her charitable endeavor starting out with a few books distributed to the children in her native Sevier County situated in the foothills of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. The program started in 1995 as a cornerstone of Parton’s Dollywood Foundation, which started way back in 1988 and aims to encourage students to stay in school through scholarships and other financial incentives upon graduation. 

The program grew quickly and achieved local success prompting a statewide expansion in 2004. Then just two years later, Canada came on board followed by the UK in 2007. Then in 2010, the Imagination Library celebrated the 25 millionth Imagination Library Book delivered. By 2011, they also added audio and Braille books into their catalog. In 2013, the Imagination Library expanded into Australia, and then the Republic of Ireland joined in 2019. 

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The Core Team and The Network: How It All Works

The day-to-day operation of the Imagination Library is led by Jeff Conyers, the president of the Dollywood Foundation with a staff of 15, many based in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Among the leadership roles include a director of operations who oversees the program’s global efforts, including the book selection, ordering system, and fulfillment. 

Every book for each age group is carefully curated by a committee to ensure that everything fits the theme and concept for the kids’ developmental milestones. Imagination Library exclusively partnered with the publishing giant Penguin Random House (PRH) who would present 200 or more titles for consideration during the three-day annual book selection update. And the committee personally reads every book aloud during the convention and analyzes all the merits of the book before putting it up in their catalog. 

There’s also a director of marketing and development who leads the foundation’s mission in bringing awareness about the benefits of the Imagination Library. And then a two-person finance team. Aside from them, there are also executive and regional directors who oversee the program in their respective countries except for Australia, where the program is delivered via a partnership agreement with United Way Australia. 

But a large part of the program’s success, growth, and sustainability lies in about the 2,500 local community partners in the five countries it serves. These community partners have thousands of local volunteers who work on fundraising activities, enrolling children and updating records.

Get Involved: How To Become A Part Of The Growing Community

There are two ways to get involved with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The first one is to sign up or register your child (0 to 5 years of age) for free through their official website. 

You just need to visit their availability page, then choose your country and enter your zip code. If the program is available in your area, you can now proceed to online registration, where you’ll need to submit a mailing address and information about your child. But if online registration isn’t available or you don’t have access to it, you can contact your local community affiliate to sign your child up. 

Once you’ve registered, your child will receive a new book every month personalized and addressed to them. As a parent, you can also check out the parent resources, which have reading tips, printable worksheets, as well as extra stories. Aside from the Imagination Library, you can also utilize other free books sources such as your local library, community book banks, and the Little Free Library. These sources will help diversify the books your children read and will also help give them a wider perspective in things. 

But if the program is not available in your area, you can initiate a program where you live. After submitting your application on the website, you will be contacted by a regional representative to assist you with the next steps. 

Currently, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library caters to 1.8 million kids in five countries which include the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Republic of Ireland. And the possibility of expanding this program is endless as long as there are people who would like to get involved and be part of its growth. 


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Dolly Parton, Imagination Library


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