In 1996, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program was launched to benefit the children of her home county (Sevier) in East Tennessee. Dolly's vision was to foster a love of reading among her county's preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their home, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. This program would also ensure that every child would have access to books in their home, regardless of their family’s income. The program is now available to any community that it is willing to partner and financially support the program in their area.
Locally, the United Way of Southwest Minnesota (UWSWMN) is the affiliate for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program. The program is free to families with children under the age of five in qualifying counties, but is dependent on local donations to fund the cost of the books and delivery. Generally, the cost is $30 per child per year. The UWSWMN supports children in the following school districts: Canby, Clarkfield, Dawson/Boyd, Echo, Fulda, Hendricks, Ivanhoe, Lake Benton, Lakeview, Lynd, Marshall, Milroy, Minneota, Murray County Central, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Tracy Area, Westbrook-Walnut Grove, and Yellow Medicine East. More than 2,700 local children currently receive monthly books sponsored by UWSWMN.
On February 27, 2018 the Dolly Parton Imagination Library presented its 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., the world’s largest library. Parton presented the book, Coat of Many Colors, in a special dedication ceremony to Carla Hayden from the Library of Congress. Parton said, “100 Million books have led to 100 million stories.” Parton then closed reading her book, Coat of Many Colors, to the audience including young children in the front row.
Carla Hayden then announced that the Library of Congress will be holding a special story time for young readers. The Imagination Library story time will be held the last Friday of each month starting in March and running through August beginning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building will host this special story time. These events will be live streamed so children and parents nationwide can join in on the fun. Each story time will feature a reading of an Imagination Library book for readers up to age 5, music and special guests. To access the event each month, visit the Library of Congress Facebook page or You Tube channel to stream.
In addition to the Imagination Library, the United Way of Southwest Minnesota administers the following early childhood/school readiness programs through the Success By 6 Initiative, including: 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, Beyond the Book Online Activity Center, Born Learning Trails, Little Red Bookshelf, Read for the Record, Wild About Reading Summer Program, Stuff the Bus and Wild About Kindergarten School Readiness Kits.
Contributions are accepted on an ongoing basis to support Imagination Library or any of the other early childhood programs listed and can be sent to UWSWMN, PO Box 41, Marshall, MN 56258 or at www.UnitedWaySWMN.org. UWSWMN has offered the program locally since 2005.