Dolly Parton: “The Library That Dolly Built”

Dolly Parton reads to children in the Library’s Great Hall in 2018. Photo: Shawn Miller.

Dolly Parton’s documentary about her world-class book giveaway program for young children debuted on Facebook this week, highlighting her Imagination Library’s 25-year history and its ties to the Library.

The Library that Dolly Built” chronicles how Parton, the child of impoverished parents (her father was illiterate) in rural Tennessee, built an international program that has given away more than 150 million books to young children since its 1995 inception. The program is simple: Participating children receive one free book by mail each month from birth until age five, regardless of income.

The program began in Parton’s native Sevier County, in the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee, with a first order of 1,760 books.  By 2001, it was operating with 27 affiliates in 11 states. The organization gave away its one millionth book in 2006; a decade later, it was mailing that many books each month. It’s now working across the United States and in Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland.

Parton is a frequent guest at the Library — the Imagination Library was a 2014 recipient of the Library’s Literacy Awards — and stopped in for a day’s worth of programs in 2018, donating the program’s 100 millionth book to the Library’s collection. She took the stage with Librarian Carla Hayden for a talk about the program for the occasion.

She also spoke with the Library’s Gayle Osterberg for a charming 10-minute segment about the program’s origins, including its ties to one of her signature songs, “Coat of Many Colors.”

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