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THE LIBRARY LOOKOUT COLUMN: A legacy of literacy

When you think of Dolly Parton, you may think of country music and blonde hair, but in Stanly County, we feel her greatest attribute is a legacy of literacy.

Sara Hahn

Dolly grew up in Sevier County, Tennessee, a poor rural community without access to books, so she decided that no other children should be raised with limited access to literacy. Since 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) has been gifting free, high-quality books to children from birth to age 5, no matter their family’s income.

After launching in 1995 through the Dollywood Foundation, the program began serving children in Sevier County. It became such a success that in 2000 a national replication effort was underway, and by 2003, DPIL had mailed 1 million books to children. In 2004, the program went statewide to Tennessee, eventually expanded across the U.S., and then to Canada in 2006 and the United Kingdom in 2007.

News of the success of the program spread quickly, and partnerships were formed between local community organizations, hospitals and libraries to be sure that all children birth through age 5 were receiving free books monthly in order to grow their own book collection at home.

In 2010, Dolly celebrated the success of her program by presenting the 25 millionth Imagination Library book. Because Dolly’s goal was to reach all children in rural communities, awareness of accessibility was brought to light in 2011 when the program expanded its potential by offering audio or braille books to children with disabilities and special needs. While continuing to expand across the globe, free books went “down under” in 2013 when the Imagination Library became available to children in Australia.

While all of these destinations were wonderful, the greatest expansion of services came in late 2014, when the Dolly Parton Imagination Library was brought to our great county of Stanly. Since the collaboration with the Stanly County Partnership for Children, the program has distributed more than 119,000 books to Stanly County children.

Registration is available at birth once a date is known and a name is given, and children will begin receiving a free book each month until their final book arrives the month of their fifth birthday.

Tammy Albertson, executive director of the Stanly County Partnership for Children, has served our community since 2002 and explains that “families with children ages birth through 5 are provided a no-cost option to have a high-quality, age-appropriate book delivered to their home each month. This provides equity in early literacy for our youngest children in Stanly County.”

Currently, Stanly County has 2,342 children on the program and has had 2,271 children graduate from the program since books began distribution in our area in 2015, ranking us 10th in the state for saturation rate. Books that are returned as non-deliverable are redistributed to locations in the community including waiting rooms at Social Services and Public Health, local childcare facilities and other locations where families can receive information about early childhood services.

Interested families can go to the Partnership for Children website, www.stanlypartnership.org, to download a registration form, or forms are available at the Public Library.

Most recently, in 2020, DPIL gifted its 150 millionth book to an early literacy-aged child, and the legacy of literacy will only continue to grow with each birth and each expanding community.

My family is honored to be a recipient of this program, and my daughter is already enjoying the board books that we receive monthly.

Stanly County is so fortunate to have access to this type of resource, and we thank those who work hard each month at the Stanly County Partnership for Children to put each book into the hands of our local children.

Dolly put it best when she said, “don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

By providing free books to children in rural communities and beyond, DPIL is creating a legacy of literacy that is making a lifelong impact for children and families around the world.

Currently Reading: “All Your Perfects” by Colleen Hoover.

Picture Book Highlight: “Fletcher and the Falling Leaves” by Julia Rawlinson.

Sara Hahn is the children and youth services librarian at the Stanly County Public Library in Albemarle. Email her at shahn@stanlycountylibrary.org.