Two Decades On, Dolly Parton's Library For Kids Has 100 Million Books

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The US Library of Congress hosted a special guest this week: Dolly Parton. The country music legend, who had started her Imagination Library two decades ago, was there to celebrate a milestone--delivery of the library's 100 millionth book. Parton's nonprofit program mails a free book to more than a million children — from infants to preschoolers--every month.


The initiative had started as a small, local effort to help kids in Parton's native Sevier County, Tennessee.

"We never thought it would be this big," she told NPR in a quiet, wood-panelled room off the library's Great Hall. "I just wanted to do something great for my dad and for my home county and, at the most, maybe a couple of counties over. But then it just took wings of its own, and I guess it was meant to be."

Father inspired library

Robert Lee Parton, Parton's father is the inspiration behind the Imagination Library. Like many people of his generation, he began working at a young age to help support his family.

"My dad didn't get the chance to go to school. And Daddy couldn't read and write, and that was kind of crippling to him," Parton said. "He was such a smart man, though. He just had such good common sense. They call it horse sense in the country."

"But Daddy thought it was just something he couldn't learn after he was grown, so he never tried to learn to read and write. And that was just kind of embarrassing to him," she continued. "But I didn't want Daddy to feel embarrassed."


Parton wanted to give Sevier County kids something her father did not have: early access to books. She started the Imagination Library in 1995. Her father was able to see the program take off before he died in 2000.

"He got to hear the kids call me 'The Book Lady.' He got a big kick out of that," she said. "But he took great pride and felt like he'd helped do something special."

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