Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library – Year In Review
Below is a complete list of all available “Year In Review” articles for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library beginning in the year 2000 through present day.
- One million books mailed per month milestone in December
- The Imagination Library program in the USA mailed 10.9 Million Books, the Canadian program mailed 186,000 books, the United Kingdom program 298,000 and 56,000 in Australia. In addition, a pilot program in Belize received over 19,000 Imagination Library books during the 2016 calendar year.
- 11,507,756 Total Books Mailed in 2016 – A 12.5% increase over 2015
- 85,419,000 Total Books Mailed (through December 2016)
- Topped 700,000 Facebook Fans in 2016
- 3.3 MILLION visits to Imaginationlibrary.com
- The New “COAT OF MANY COLORS” children’s book debuted in October 2016. Selected as part of the Imagination Library in the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom.
- In 2016, 57 new or revised titles were introduced to the Imagination Library lineup across the USA, Canada and United Kingdom including the 2016 Newbery Medal recipient “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña. Other notable new titles were “Elmer” by David McKee, “Pom Pom Gets the Grumps” by Sophy Henn and “Great” by Glen Gretzky and Lauri Holomis; Foreword by Wayne Gretzky.
- The Book Selection Committee chose 12 bilingual Spanish titles for the USA DPIL and 12 new titles with more specific Canadian content for the Canadian DPIL.
- Dolly Parton performed to a sold out concert benefiting The Dollywood Foundation.
- The Imagination Library’s 20th anniversary culminated with a record-breaking performance that both extended and deepened the program across the world. The Foundation now operates in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. A demonstration project was launched in Belize to ascertain how the program could be effective in emerging countries.
- The Imagination Library and its local partners gifted 10,233,532 books. This was the first time the number of books surpassed 10,000,000 in a single year. This was an 11.8% increase over the prior year.
- The current level of activity translates into a book being gifted every 3 seconds.
- These 10.2 million books were procured at a cost of approximately $15,000,000 but they carry a market value of over $90,000,000.
- In December, monthly participation reached another all-time high: over 915,000 children per month.
- The number of books gifted over the duration of the 20 years reached 73.9 million.
- Dolly Parton performed three sold out shows at Dollywood to benefit The Dollywood Foundation.
- Dolly released the children’s song “I Believe in You”, the title track from a children’s album to be released in 2016.
- Homecomin’ 2015 welcomed 250 leaders of local Imagination Library programs to discuss best practices and to inspire new opportunities. The conference was highlighted by a presentation from Lori Nichols, author of the “Maple” series.
- Overall, 54 new titles were introduced to the North American and UK Imagination Library. “Just Imagine” by Pippa Goodhart and illustrated by Nick Sharratt was anointed as the new graduation book in the UK. Other new titles introduced to DPIL include “Maple” by Lori Nichols, “Ten Thank You Letters” by Daniel Kirk, “Where’s Spot?” by Eric Hill, “Boy in Number 4” by Kara Kootstra and Bobby Orr, “The Dudgeon is Coming” by Lynley Dodd, and “Little Cub” by Olivier Dunrea to name a few.
- The Book selection Committee chose 12 bilingual Spanish titles for the USA DPIL and 10 new titles with more specific Canadian content for the Canadian DPIL.
- There were over 2.3 million visits to the Imagination Library website.
The Imagination Library received the Best Practices Award from The Library Of Congress Literacy Awards.
At the center of every replication of the Imagination Library one can always find a person whose joy, passion, determination and skill drive the process from idea to reality. We call these folks Champions but in all honesty “hero” may be a much better word. Heroes seem larger than life and achieve outcomes that at face value seem improbable. Our own Dolly Parton has achieved results that are far beyond heroic as her journey from east Tennessee to international fame somehow stepped over, under or around every obstacle that could be placed in front of her.
Replication of the Imagination Library is not an easy task. Yet year after year hundreds of our Heroes decide to make the dream of the Imagination Library their own. So as we briefly describe the successes of 2013 be always mindful that beneath the impressive numbers and the impressive stories of success, there always lies a heart of a Hero.
The numbers, as always, are impressive. In 2013, 8.36 million books were distributed and at the end of the year 735,000 children were receiving a book each month. The total books since inception surpassed 55,000,000. Yet numbers are just metrics, the stories of success are revelations.
In Canada, the entire year was focused on one primary objective: to bring the Imagination Library to all of the First Nation children living in 62 reserve communities throughout Manitoba. Through the generosity and kindness of many public and private organizations approximately 80% of all the funds needed to support the program for 5 years were secured. Ultimately 7,000 children will be enrolled in the program in 2014 and 2015. This marked the first time a provincial wide program for First Nation children was achieved.
Across the sea, the United Kingdom experienced the greatest net growth in new children since the program was launched in Rotherham. Propelled by the exciting growth in North Lincolnshire, the total number of children enrolled each month surpassed 25,000 and brought the total number of books distributed in the UK to just short of 1,000,000. Other notable achievements include an employer based program with Royal Mail and strong interest from Housing Associations.
In Australia, a partnership with the United Way led to a pilot effort with several communities which will ultimately launch a national program in 2014.
Finally, in the USA efforts in Erie, Pennsylvania and Greene County, Ohio continue to teach us that communities can do anything they commit to do. The same can be said at the state level as Arkansas, North Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi took significant steps toward the goal of establishing statewide programs.
In June, two hundred of our Heroes gathered in Pigeon Forge to share, to laugh and to celebrate. Some participants brought their vision while others offered their experience and their creativity. Some brought their sheer determination and still others shared their unbridled joy. But all of them brought one special gift — they brought with them the heart of a Hero.
In November of 2012, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, Dolly Parton boarded her bus in Nashville for the journey to New York City. Her mission was to promote the release of her new book, “Dream More”, inspired by her unforgettable commencement address at the University of Tennessee several years earlier. The book retraced her commitment to the founding principles behind the creation of The Dollywood Foundation, to Dream More, Learn More, Care More and Be More. The book shares a few laughs, some tears and a thoughtful insight as to how her life has navigated both calm and treacherous waters. Obviously, the message resonated with her readers because the book soon found its place on the New York Times bestseller list.
She dedicated the book to her Imagination Library and donated all of the proceeds to The Dollywood Foundation. Her ongoing commitment to The Foundation and its signature program has become an integral part of the program’s financial equation. The unique business model, which in large part is the reason the program has grown so rapidly, relies on the generosity of local sponsors, the frugality of managing the cost of the books and mailing expenses and Dolly’s willingness to absorb all of the overhead.
The results continue to be impressive, especially in the light of the last 4 years of a global recession. In 2012, the Imagination Library and all of its local sponsors distributed 7.65 million books and pushed the total given away since inception to over 45 million. Almost 300,000 new children were welcomed to the program and the current number of enrolled children surpassed 655,000 in 2012. No doubt, the rate of growth has slowed and sadly some local sponsors could not sustain the program. Yet a fascinating diversity of communities continued to join the ranks–United Ways of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield (the 3 largest cities in Missouri); Ft. McMurray in Alberta became the largest program in Canada; and in the UK, our special initiative for looked after children now covers 26 Local Authorities in Scotland.
Furthermore, we were thrilled that the research article based on DPIL (by the extraordinary team from Le Moyne College) has been accepted for publication in the journal, Reading Psychology. The article, “The Imagination Library Program: Increasing Parental Reading Through Book Distribution” by Ridzi, Sylvia, & Singh, marks the first publication of empirical research assessing the impact of this international program in an academic, peerreviewed journal.
Other signs of growth and international exposure are reflected in our platforms for social media. We now have 40,000 fans on Facebook, 10,000 followers on Twitter and reach nearly 2.5 million people through Google +.
Our vast network across three countries remains strong and vibrant. Sure, we have experienced our share of the economic downturn, nature’s catastrophes and a few man made punches as well. Nevertheless the commitment to positively impact the most important years of a child’s life has withstood it all.
We are encouraged to reflect on the past but we must look forward to the future. What lies ahead for us–new countries, more states and provinces, employer based models, music and more resources on the website? Will we land on one of these ideas or perhaps on all of them? Time will tell, but for now the pursuit to improve and grow enthusiastically continues because we remain committed to one guiding principle–to always strive to Dream More.
The end of the year is always about counting: how much money did we spend, how much money did we raise, how much did it cost, and how much did we do. This year, we had a lot to count. At year’s end, the Imagination Library was operating in 1,642 communities in 3 countries. In December of 2011 675,637 children were participating in the program and for the year 7,999,673 books were mailed. This brings us to a lifetime total of 38,492,164 books.
In 2011, more children graduated than ever before: 153,011 children received their very last book in 2011. Yet there were still more children entering the program than exiting. Almost 275,000 new children were enrolled, a 10% increase over the previous year.
Social media is now part of most everyone’s life whether they know it or not. Our emphasis on social media this year really paid off. Facebook, Twitter, Blog and Google + provided the Imagination Library with just over 15.2 million total views (up 240% over 2010). Our current daily Facebook network reach (fans & friends of fans) is 7,033,930. This social media presence was further enhanced by the introduction in November of our brand new web site. This, too, generated increased traffic as the number of visitors to the site increased by over 72%.
These numbers are fantastic but we know full well that numbers are not people. The real story of the Imagination Library continues to be told in communities and in families. The incredible network of United Way, Rotary, Junior League, Kiwanis, school districts, Chambers of Commerce, national government, provincial and state government, local government, local foundations, national foundations, libraries, non-profits, businesses, and individuals have all joined forces to allow these stories to be told. Dolly Parton said, “I may lead this effort but local people are the effort.”
One of our proudest moments in 2011 was the announcement of a partnership with The American Printing House for the Blind. Audio versions of many of the Imagination Library books were created for children with visual impairments, and in 2012 some books will be made available in Braille.
Today’s achievements always lead to tomorrow’s goals. Dolly is fond of the saying “Don’t confuse dreams for wishes,” and as the Imagination Library peers into the future some astounding dreams are now clearly within reach. Down the road, there will be 1,000,000 children per month enrolled in the program, and one day in the not so distant future the 100,000,000th book will be delivered. More entire states, provinces and boroughs will make the program universally available to their children and more countries will come on board. More evidence will emerge that the Imagination Library inspires more reading in the home and as a result, more children will be better prepared for a life of learning.
Finally, 2011 ended with the most important count of all, counting our blessings. The Imagination Library family is thousands of caring souls who strive every day to nurture and inspire its children. This effort will continue to be sustained—you can count on that!
The number “25” was a big number in 2010. Dollywood celebrated 25 years of providing food, fun and entertainment to millions of customers from all over the world. Dollywood and Dixie Stampede have long been loyal and generous supporters of the Imagination Library so their success is our success. The same goes for the thousands of businesses in all of our 1,300 communities. Times have been difficult the past couple of years, but the resilient generosity of all those businesses and individuals in three countries has played a major role in keeping our Little Engine chugging right along.
The introduction of soft cover books for the older children not only was well received by sponsors and parents, but their introduction reduced the cost of the program by 20% in the USA and Canada. Actions taken in the United Kingdom reduced the cost of the program by 10%.
So here’s where that number “25” pops up again. In 2010, we raised a toast to acknowledge the mailing of the 25,000,000th book. This is quite a milestone, but we enjoyed it only for a short time because by the end of the year, we mailed our 30,000,000th book! Since we are talking numbers, here are all of the key numbers for 2010:
- We now have 1,300 communities in 3 countries.
- At the end of the year, we were mailing to 560,000 children each month.
- In 2010, we distributed 7.1 million books.
- The Little Engine That Could was given to 249,125 children in 2010.
- Just under 126,000 graduated from the program in 2010.
However, these are not even the most impressive numbers. The most impressive numbers would be difficult to count. These are the number of local individuals who register children, who enter information into the database, and who raise an incredible amount of money to provide books to children. What’s the sum of all of these numbers? Smiles on faces, books held close, and our four favorite words—“Read it to me!”
All countries and cultures have their traditions to ring in the New Year. You can bet that on New Year’s Day on just about every table in every home in the southeastern United States you will find a bowl of black eyed peas and collard greens. It is the meal for good fortune in the coming year. If there was ever a year to double up on the black eyed peas and the collard greens, it was 2009. The Dollywood Foundation, like the rest of the world, viewed 2009 as a year for concern and uncertainty. Without a doubt, the year proved to be difficult, but at the end of the day, the generous helpings of black eyed peas and collard greens worked their magic.
The number of communities participating in Dolly’s Imagination Library continued to increase at a brisk rate – landing at 1,068 by the end of the year. The number of children enrolled each month soared to just under 561,000 children. Right at 6.2 million books were distributed in 2009, bringing the overall total to just over 23 million books.
During the year a number of milestones were achieved. In the United Kingdom, the 100,000th book was distributed, and in Canada the number of children participating each month increased by over 100%. Partnerships with Rotary International and United Way were announced in March and June respectively. These partnerships powered the growth of participating communities in 2009 and they will continue to anchor the expansion of the program for years to come.
A major priority is to replicate the statewide, universal programs of Tennessee and the Yukon Territories. Major strides were made toward this goal in Alaska, Georgia and West Virginia. The race is on to see who will join this very special group.
There were a number of major media pieces about the Imagination Library. In Canada, the documentary The Book Lady aired nationally and will join the rotation for in-flight movie options for Air Canada in the spring of 2010. In the USA, Dolly released her children’s book I Am a Rainbow and announced that all of her royalties will be donated to The Dollywood Foundation. In November, a national television feature on Dolly was broadcast throughout the United Kingdom which stressed the connection between her spiritual beliefs and her commitment to inspire children.
After months of review and consultation with community sponsors and parents, a decision was made to introduce soft cover books for the older age groups in the Imagination Library. While offering the same quality of books, the move will decrease the overall cost to communities by at least 15% and maybe as much as 20-22%.
A year that began with trepidation ended with gratitude. We are thankful that so many people never wavered in their commitment to children, thankful for the collective wisdom to take some chances in order to insure the continuation of this effort…. and thankful for the blessings of black eyed peas and collard greens.
A funny thing happened along the way to one of the most financially distressing years in history – Dolly’s Imagination Library experienced a record year by almost any measure. Another 240 communities joined the effort, pushing the total number of participating communities to 950 and the total number of children to 496,000 in three countries. In 2008, almost 5.5 million books were mailed and the total mailed since program inception soared to 17.1 million books!
While the numbers are impressive the people are even more so. There really is no way to accurately count all of the thousands of local volunteers working hard every day to fund the effort, register the kids, manage the database, collect the books and promote strategies to better prepare their children for a life full of learning. Is it 10,000 or 100,000 or 500,000 people? While the number may be hard to pin down, it is abundantly clear that in each community we find caring and compassionate individuals that have so generously adopted Dolly’s Imagination Library as their own.
In Tennessee, the program serves every child under five years of age. In Canada’s Yukon Territories, the provincial government works with the Rotary Club to follow this model, consistently serving every resident child. Other states are moving toward this impressive level of coverage.
The state of West Virginia has expanded the number of counties it funds; the Aloha United Way, Read to Me International, and the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family came together to form a partnership to work for a statewide adoption of the program; and in Georgia, the Ferst Foundation and Rotary will soon announce their plans for a statewide program.
In the United Kingdom, an entirely new operation was established—new books, new mail service, new post office and a new director was hired to lead the effort. In all, over 6,000 children were enrolled and verbal commitments were reached with four additional communities to launch in 2009.
The Tennessee Board of Regents released a study which asked kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers to rate children on several learning attributes. Not surprisingly, the study found that those children participating in Dolly’s Imagination Library consistently performed better in these areas.
This homegrown effort has now grown into a substantial international program that utilizes a sophisticated database, three mailing services, two publishers, three postal systems and a thousand different local partnerships to do what was once only dreamt – to make sure every child has the opportunity to love books and to love reading.
The spirit of this dream was authentically portrayed in the newly released Canadian documentary, The Book Lady, which follows, with the help of Invest in Kids, the Imagination Library’s introduction into Canada. The film rarely mentions what should be learned but instead captures what moves people, what inspires people and what people love to do. As one little fellow says in the film “Reading is my hobby.” Not bad for a four year old.
On December 4, 2007 Dolly Parton was introduced to the crowd gathered at the Savoy Hotel in London, England by a group of school children who sang Dolly’s song “I Believe in You.” This wonderful moment captured both the success of 2007 and the exciting promise of 2008.
Dolly had ventured to London to announce that her Imagination Library would now be available to communities throughout the United Kingdom. Joining her for the announcement were the leaders and children of the United Kingdom’s very first community – the borough of Rotherham. In a very real sense, every leader and every child in every community that has launched the Imagination Library, stood with her that day. Obviously, any success of today is built upon all of the achievements which have come before it.
The launching of Dolly’s Imagination Library in the United Kingdom capped another year of exciting growth. Take a look at the following highlights:
- At the close of the year, 732 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia, 6 Canadian provinces, and 1 Canadian territory participated in the program.
- Currently 420,000 children receive a book each and every month.
- In 2007, just under 4.5 million books were mailed, a 37% increase over 2006.
- In 2006 and in 2007, a total of 7.7 million books were mailed.
- A new feature to allow families to register via the website produced almost 24,000 registrations via on-line access.
- Through the cooperation of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, fully 50% of all children under 5 in Tennessee are now in the program. GBBF also worked with Tennessee Tech University to produce a DVD that can serve as a recipe for other states to provide a statewide, universal program.
- The state of West Virginia announced plans to provide Dolly’s Imagination Library to 6 of its counties.
- Over 250 folks from the U.S. and Canada participated in The Dollywood Foundation’s bi-annual Homecomin’ gathering.
- Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse, featuring the Penguin Players, not only performed daily at Dollywood through the summer, it also brought the show on the road, performing over 70 times to over 4,000 kids.
- The much feared postal increase levied by the USPS was kept to a manageable amount (3-5 cents per child per month) and it triggered a process to reformat all of the books to retain their quality but meet the new flexibility standards.
- A new partnership with national United Way produced reading tips for families in four of the books. The tips are designed to follow the development of the child, beginning with general reading tips in the first book and then moving to tips for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
- The Dollywood Foundation of Canada and The Dollywood Foundation of the United Kingdom were founded in their respective countries.
- The Dollywood Foundation of Canada and Invest in Kids finalized an official partnership to staff and promote their mutual interests throughout Canada.
These are all grand achievements, but in the end there is no better way to communicate the many endeavors of 2007 than through the words of a mother. These daily expressions of gratitude and commendation pour into the hearts of the thousands of individuals who work diligently to initiate and sustain the Imagination Library. Here is such an expression of joy from a letter sent by a parent to a local sponsor: “I just want to thank you so very much for making this fantastic program possible for us Hawaii residents. Just the other day our younger son received his monthly book and today another book arrived for my older son. I don’t know who gets more excited when the books arrive, me or the boys!”
Every year now seems like the best year ever for The Dollywood Foundation and thankfully 2006 has been…. well, the best year ever!
It’s been a year filled with “firsts.”
In November, Dolly bounced on a stage in Toronto to announce that the Imagination Library will now be available to children in Canadian communities. For the first time, the program crossed an international border with the goal to make the program Canada’s own unique attempt to instill a love for reading in all of her children. Although The Dollywood Foundation of Canada will coordinate the program, an agreement was reached with the Canadian-based organization, Invest in Kids, to help bring the Imagination Library to as many Canadian preschoolers as possible. The press coverage for the event was superb and the level of excitement was downright inspiring so we look forward to working with our Canadian family.
During the summer, the 95th, and last, county in Tennessee came on board with the Imagination Library. Thanks to the special assistance of the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, local leaders from all across the state brought universal coverage to Tennessee’s under 5 population. For the first time, a family could move from one end of a state to another and still have access to the Imagination Library. By the end of the year, almost 40% of all of Tennessee’s preschool children were participating in the program.
Other states showed interest in the program. The Michigan legislature, due to the push from many of the communities providing the Imagination Library, appropriated $500,000 for school districts to match in order to provide a “book a month” program. This $1,000,000 will be largely devoted to Imagination Library programs and significantly expand the effort across the state.
On the operational front, there were several notable accomplishments. In January, for the first time, each and every book was protected by a polybag covering. In addition, some 35 books were re-sized so they would all fit easily into a standard mailbox. These new formats will begin arriving in homes in early 2007.
Also arriving in 2007 will be four books that contain reading tips for families. Written by United Way’s Born Learning/Success By 6 national staff, these reading tips will be a part of a larger partnership that will bring the Imagination Library to the attention of hundreds of new United Ways and bring the message of the importance of reading to millions of children.
This message was strengthened through the continuation of Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse at Dollywood. Three of the books were brought to life as theatrical productions. One of them, Keiko Kasza’s My Lucky Day, was produced as a road show and, in a partnership with Knox County public libraries, played to over 10,000 children in the east Tennessee area.
Dolly proudly released her new cookbook, Dolly’s Dixie Fixins, and donated all of the proceeds to the Foundation. It marked the first time we have collaborated with her to sell a product online and given the response, it will not be the last time either!
Lastly, it is time to bring up a few more “firsts.” For the first time, over 330,000 children each month are receiving the Imagination Library. And for the first time, the total number of books distributed soared over three million for 2006. Since the inception of the program, now over seven million books have been mailed to children. To put these numbers in perspective, in 2006 over 45% of all books ever mailed were mailed in this one year alone!
Success is never achieved alone. The success of this year is solely dependent upon the hundreds of local organizations and thousands of people who want the same thing for their children. So, be it a United Way, a civic organization, a library, a school, a school system or one of the many educationally oriented non-profits that enrich our lives, our success is your success… and for that we remain eternally thankful.
Numbers usually tell about half the story. So let’s first tell the numbers side of the Imagination Library 2005 story.
It was another year of exponential growth. The number of communities soared from 385 to 566 and the total number of books given for the year virtually doubled to 1.9 million. In December of 2005 the total number of children enrolled in the program crossed the 200,000 threshold and now sits right at 215,000.
The Imagination Library’s first venture into a statewide universal program in Tennessee finished the year with just under 90 of the state’s 95 counties participating in the program. Just think over 75% of all the preschoolers in Tennessee now have access to books each and every month.
Pretty impressive, don’t you think? However as impressive as the numbers appear, it is the stories behind those numbers that truly measure the depth of the Imagination Library. For starters, those 566 communities represent thousands of local organizations who, in turn, represent tens of thousands of donors and supporters. In 2005, we saw more local school systems and civic organizations come on board as sponsors. The United Way continued to be an important part of our network as they connected the Imagination Library to local businesses, Chambers of Commerce, Success by 6 strategies, and the educational community.
In Tennessee, the statewide initiative was led by the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation. They worked with private and public leaders in every single county in the state.
Now consider the 1.9 million books. With every book there was a person who handed out a registration form and who entered the information into the database. Each month, an entirely different network of folks that spanned the entire world printed the books, shipped them, sorted them, labeled them, carried them in the mail trucks, and placed the book in the mail box. And at the end of 2005, another wonderful feature was added – each book will now arrive in its very own clear polybag in order to better protect this precious cargo.
Every book also represents all of the time and effort invested by a small group of experts who for every book selected considered another half a dozen possible alternatives. Three of the books, with the help of Penguin Group USA, were turned into theatrical productions that were unveiled during the summer at Dollywood. Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse brought these books to life and touched the hearts of thousands of families. Moreover, Dolly celebrated the premiere with over 250 local sponsors of the Imagination Library from all the country who were attending our Homecomin’ 2005.
Dolly’s Imagination Library has become a quilt of a thousand patches. Yet the one story that remains central to the work is the story that now unfolds 215,000 times each month – a moment of promise and discovery.
Dolly captured that moment in her song “I Believe In You” that she wrote for the Imagination Playhouse.
This big ol’ world is full of dreams and possibilities The train of life is filled with hope and opportunities So stay on track and don’t look back Learn the rules and know the facts Clickety, clickety, clickety clack I believe in you!
On June 18, 2004 Dolly, Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, Barney (yes, the purple dinosaur) and about 1000 children and parents gathered at Dollywood to celebrate another dream come true. On this day, the state of Tennessee announced it was joining forces with Dolly to provide the Imagination Library to every child under 5 in the entire state. Just think, for the first time a state guaranteed that every child within its borders will have access to quality books and the joy they inspire.
It was indeed a landmark day but probably just a hint of what we can expect down the road. During 2004 discussions about a statewide Imagination Library were launched in half a dozen states.
The number of participating communities continued to soar. At the close of the year 375 communities in 39 states now provide Dolly’s Imagination Library for their children. In December, for the first time ever, the number of children receiving books each month surpassed 100,000 and brought the yearly total of books to 980,000. The magnitude of this growth can be better understood when one considers this – just four short years ago the Foundation and its partners mailed 74,000 books and today we mail more than that each month!
As the year drew to a close, the new database system was launched creating a much easier way to enter children into the database. The combination of these technological improvements and the generosity of Dolly, Dixie Stampede, Dollywood and our corporate sponsors secured all of the overhead required to bring a book to every home. As a result, communities continue to pay for only the cost of the book and its mailing. It seems economic forces usually conspire to only increase cost so it is gratifying to know that the annual cost of the Library is still the same as it was 4 years ago. However, now for that same $27, the books have a higher retail value, six are bi-lingual, three have reading tips for parents, two have personal messages from Dolly and all greet each and every child with the same message – we love you!!
The heart and soul of Dolly’s Imagination Library is the community champion. In 375 communities the business, philanthropic, educational, and government leaders have summoned the will and the resources to make this happen for their children. They have also created companion programs, inspired new communities, led the discussions for statewide replication and affirmed the impact of the Library through their own surveys. A summary of these surveys was released in December.
Dolly and her Foundation family have much to celebrate. Perhaps the most compelling summary of the year was best expressed by a parent in a letter to her local community champion. “ I really can’t thank you enough. Words, ironically, cannot express what a remarkable gift you have given us.”
In December of 2003, representatives from many of the communities that replicate Dolly’s Imagination Library gathered in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to share and dream. It was such a treat to see all of these folks gathered together. They came from all over the country and represented businesses, schools, United Ways, civic organizations, Chamber of Commerce, Parents as Teachers, education foundations and government. A diverse group indeed but tied together by their commitment to instill in every child a love for reading.
This event and Dolly’s benefit concerts brought another successful year to a grand conclusion. By the end of the year 260 communities in 35 states had committed to providing Dolly’s books to their preschool children. The number of children receiving books each month (63,000) was more than twice the number at the end of 2002 and the same doubling held true for the total number of books distributed for the entire year.
Dolly proudly presented a little girl from Alabama with the one millionth book, a milestone for the program that symbolized not only what has been accomplished but also the promise of even more significant accomplishments to come. In the last two years approximately 850,000 books have been mailed to children but in 2004 over 1.2 million books are projected to be mailed! Now that is some rate of growth.
This year also witnessed the release of the first study about the impact of Dolly’s Imagination Library. Conducted by the High/Scope Research Educational Foundation, the study concluded “ Parents overwhelmingly report that Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program is effective at increasing time spent reading with children, making children more interested in books, making parents more comfortable reading to children, and increasing parent awareness of their children’s reading levels.” Wow, could we have asked for a better conclusion?
In Sevier County, the home of the Foundation and Dolly, four $15,000 Dolly Parton scholarships were created for the county’s four high schools. Three local businesses – Citizens National Bank, Tennessee State Bank, Dixie Stampede and one non-profit—the Sevier County High School Alumni Association partnered with the Foundation to provide these substantial scholarships.
As successful as 2003 has been, we all share the belief that we have just barely scratched the surface. Ahead of us lies many exciting possibilities: a presence in all 50 states, entire states adopting the program, a new web based data base/book ordering system and our first international community.
In the end, however, it all comes back to books and children. The Imagination Library continues to offer books of the highest quality. Wonderful books are made even better by our commitment to customize and personalize the titles as much as practical. Consequently we have bi-lingual books, letters from Dolly in the books, reading tips for parents in some of the books, personalized mailing labels and the ability to add special messages. These are indeed books to be excited about and they allow us to be a part of a special moment in tens of thousands of homes each and every month – when a child takes the book out of the mail box and says, “read it to me!!” What a blessing.
On December 13, 2002 Dolly Parton gathered several of her special guests on the stage of Celebrity Theatre at Dollywood. It was an impressive group – the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, the Director of Indian Education Programs for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the President of Parents as Teachers National Center and the President of The National Center for Family Literacy. Smiles, handshakes and hugs were all in order because Dolly announced to the press that her Imagination Library would join forces with all of these organizations to provide a book each month to preschoolers in 92 Native American communities.
This announcement capped off an exciting year of growth for the Imagination Library. At the end of year, there were 185 communities committed to the Library and for the first time, the actual number of children receiving a book each month exceeded 30,000!
The story behind those 30,000 smiles took several interesting twists and turns. In September, under the leadership of the Sioux Empire United Way, 10 United Ways in South Dakota joined together to launch an effort to eventually provide the Imagination Library to every child in the their state. In Georgia, The Ferst Books Foundation grew to 8 communities and continued their journey to provide the books to every child in Georgia. And in Dolly’s home state of Tennessee, the man who ultimately won the gubernatorial race, campaigned on a platform that pledged to provide the books to every preschooler in the state. These statewide developments were hopefully just the beginning of many more to come.
On the national level, the sponsorship from the Bureau of Indian Affairs marked a new partnership with the federal government. Once again, there is hope that this precedent setting partnership will inspire other federally funded efforts.
Local sponsors continued to come in many shapes and sizes. In addition to the dozens of United Ways that jumped on board, several local school districts adopted the program. They joined local education foundations, community foundations, civic groups, non-profits, businesses and Chambers of Commerce who all decided to give their children a very special gift.
Several decisions made in 2002 will turn into a reality in 2003. Bi-lingual books will be added to the Library as well as a couple of special editions where reading tips for parents will be printed in the books. Registration brochures are now available in Spanish and to help with local promotion, newspaper and radio ads will be available to customize for local use – and in 2003, Imagination Library polo shirts will be available.
Where do we go from here? On that December day, Dolly told the crowd she felt the Imagination Library was now truly a national gift, but it is not yet universal. There may be 20 million children under 5 in the USA so there is a bunch more book mailing yet to be done. 20 million books each month? We had better get busy!
What a year! At the beginning of 2001, there were 6 communities committed to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. There was hope that the simple beauty of the Library would be of interest to many other communities and during 2001 that hope turned into an exciting reality. As the year came to a close, the number of committed communities stood at 27 in 11 states representing over 50,000 children each month.
The local sponsors who came forward to support the program were as varied as their communities. Foundations, businesses, United Ways, civic clubs, and other non-profits pledged their financial support to implement Dolly’s Imagination Library. Large communities such as Spartanburg, Sioux Falls and Sioux City planted the program in their United Way. These three communities have almost 30,000 children under 5. Just as important were all of the smaller communities who launched the program. These communities were led by Revere, Missouri which offered the Library to all of the 8 children in their community.
Replication occurred in many ways. Networks such as United Way and Parents as Teachers were very active in promoting sites. Existing sites were invaluable to the replication effort. The site in Morgan County, Georgia led to a similar effort in neighboring Putnam County. In all, six sites were generated by established sites.
To support all of this growth, new promotional materials were produced. A creative and fun information packet was developed. This included a new template registration brochure was customized for local use. Almost 100,000 of these registration brochures were distributed across the country. Most notably, Dolly produced an information video which not only described the program but shared a bit about her history and her motivation to develop the Imagination Library.
A List Serve was also created to better inform the participants of the Imagination Library network. A graduate student from the Department of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee created this very important communication tool for the growing network. Additional support came from the Annie E. Casey Foundation that committed a significant grant to help the Foundation design a research project to assess the impact of the Imagination Library on families and their communities
The passage of each day brings more attention to early childhood development. Whether the topic is brain research, language skills, motor development, socialization or literacy skills, the verdict has been delivered — the years between birth and five are the most critical time in the development of a child.
For the past four years, the Foundation’s Imagination Library quietly went about its business to provide children and parents an inspirational gift of a book each month. During 2000, Dolly’s Imagination Library debuted as a national organization. Its emergence on the national front focused new light on the program and brought to an end the depiction of the program as merely a nice gesture from Dolly and her friends for the children of her hometown. Now, the Imagination Library is seen as a pioneer, a trendsetter and something, which can and should be replicated throughout the entire country.
In Sevier County, over 150,000 books have now been distributed to 6700 children. The Foundation’s Imagineer reads at 30 locations throughout the county, strengthening the connection between reading and fun. To further document this effort in January, 2001, the Foundation will release the findings of a study conducted during 2000. A series of interviews conducted by Dr. Jinx Watson of the Department of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee will explore the impact of the books on the children and their families.
During 2000, the Foundation and the Sevier County High School Alumni Association joined forces to create the Dolly Parton Scholarship at Sevier County High School. Eventually, the scholarship will attain a level, which will provide the recipient virtually a full scholarship at a state-supported institution.
For evermore, the year 2000 will mark the beginning of the Foundation’s journey to replicate Dolly’s Imagination Library. In each community, a local champion has emerged to finance the cost of the books and the mailing. In some cases, the Imagination Library joins other existing services for children and families and in others, it remains a stand alone effort. In all communities, however, it is locally owned and crafted to reflect the unique personality of the community. At the end of 2000, five other communities in three states have implemented the Library and half a dozen more are waiting in the wings.
This replication effort will produce some substantial numbers. The monthly distribution has already climbed to over 5000 books and by the end of 2001 it should surpass 15,000. By the end of 2003, there will hopefully be 100 communities providing each child under 5 a book per month.
Throughout the year the Foundation has negotiated with publishers to improve the quality of the individual titles while maintaining, if not lowering, the cost. Beginning in 2001, the Foundation will unveil the new Imagination Library in partnership with Penguin Putnam. The 60 titles, carefully selected by the Foundation’s Book Selection Committee, address the educational and developmental needs of children. However, the fun is not forgotten and there are ample books which celebrate the playful side of a child’s experience.
This year has indeed been a memorable one for the Foundation. A national replication effort is an ambitious project, even for a talented and determined Dolly Parton. Let us never forget, however, that the Imagination Library always leads off with The Little Engine That Could. So much like the Little Engine, when you walk by the Foundation’s office, or listen in to the quiet conversations among Dolly, the local champions and the corporate sponsors, there is no doubt that you will hear “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…. I THINK I CAN!!!!”