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The Story of Dolly’s Imagination Library

In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort to benefit the children of her home county in east Tennessee. Dolly wanted to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families. She wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.

So she decided to mail a brand new, age appropriate book each month to every child under 5 in Sevier County. With the arrival of every child’s first book, the classicThe Little Engine That Couldevery child could now experience the joy of finding their very own book in their mail box. These moments continue each month until the child turns 5-and in their very last month in the program they receive Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come from Dolly’s Parton’s Imagination Library

After three years of success, Dolly agreed to help other communities replicate the program. In June 2004, the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation  was created to serve as a resource to fund the Imagination Library in all counties in Tennessee. To assist with the funding, each year the General Assembly approves funding to pay 50% of the cost of the Imagination Library books in Tennessee!

The Sullivan County Imagination Library is a model of Dolly’s early program. All children who are legal residents of Sullivan County (including Bluff City, Bristol and Kingsport) from birth to age five can be registered for this program. Once registered, each child then receives a free age-appropriate book in the mail every month – sixty books in all if signed at birth. Every child will have books of their very own, at no cost to them, thanks to the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation, the State of Tennessee, Sullivan County Imagination Library, Dollywood Foundation and many other generous sponsors.

Local Involvement

Why did Sullivan County decide to become involved?
On May 29, 2003, three Sullivan County Librarians and three board members went to a state-wide workshop presented by the Friends of the Tennessee Libraries, which encouraged local groups to start the Imagination Library program in their counties. An organizational meeting was held in October 2003, when other community leaders added their support. Other interested people quickly added their support, and the Sullivan County Imagination Library council was formed in March 2004. By July 2004, the Memorandum of Agreement between The Dollywood Foundation and the Kingsport Chamber Foundation was signed, and plans were underway. The Dollywood Foundation managed each Imagination Library. The Kingsport Chamber Foundation provided the Sullivan County Imagination Library with promotional material and assistance in getting the program started.

After five years of operating as a program of the Kingsport Chamber Foundation, the Sullivan County Imagination Library was reorganized to form an independent organization with a new address, phone number, and 501(c)3 designation to make your contributions tax deductible.

Currently the board of directors has 24 members, with numerous other volunteers working on this project.