Originally published in the Chillicothe Gazette, January 19, 2020
by Ruby Smart, Youth Services Manager
You might wonder why this week’s library column is about Dolly Parton, who is a cultural icon known mostly for her music and her, well, other assets. Today Dolly Parton turns 74, and her legacy is more than just her fifty-plus years in the music industry. It’s also kids’ books. In an initiative that started in her hometown in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has passed out over 130 million books to 1.4 million kids across the world at no cost to the families.
I can still remember the day that I took my son to the park for a special storytime by Miss Maryjo from Discovery Garden. All I knew going into the park was that it was a kick-off for something fun, and it had to do with books and Dolly, two things I liked. On July 3rd, 2010, we headed to the playground, where we found Miss Maryjo dressed like a train conductor. She read The Little Engine That Could, and when the story ended, everyone held on to a rope and we walked all around the playground making train noises. It was the kickoff party for the Ross County chapter of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The pictures from that day still pop up in my Facebook memories.
A few weeks later, we received a book in the mail. My son was not quite two yet, and every month after that a new book came in the mail. It was always a happy day when the mail carrier delivered his book. While we checked out books every week at the library, these books were special. These were his books. Dolly Parton picked them out just for him and he loved it.
The month he turned five, his last book came. It was called Ready for Kindergarten. He was a little sad that it was his last book. I, on the other hand, cried like a baby as this meant my baby was growing up. Receiving his last book from Dolly Parton was harder on me than when he started kindergarten.
Ross County is lucky that we have the United Way to facilitate Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. In the past 10 years they have passed out over 96,000 books. By the end of this year, that number will top 100,000. More than 2,500 kids have “graduated” (aged out) from the program. Right now, there are around 1,200 children receiving books every month from United Way and Dolly Parton.
Last year Governor DeWine took steps to make Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library a statewide program. For two years, the state is providing 50% of the funds needed for the program and several agencies across the state have started new chapters.
If you would like more information on how you can support Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library locally or if you live in Ross County, have a child under five and would like to sign up, visit unitedwayross.org or stop by any library location and pick up an Imagination Library form.