Miami Co. Imagination Library

Educators have emphasized the fact that reading with your preschool child is the single most important activity to prepare a child for school.  Dolly Parton created her Imagination Library to guarantee access to books and to inspire parents to read to their children as much as possible.

Establishment of the Program

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was launched in 1996 for preschoolers in Sevier County, Tennessee, as a gift of encouragement for the children of her Smoky Mountain homeland.

In Sevier County from the day they are born, children who register for the program receive a book every month until their fifth birthday.  Preschoolers currently living in the community may enter the program at any time and begin receiving an age appropriate book every month until their fifth birthday.  Families with preschoolers who move into the community are eligible to register for the program.  Participating families who move away from the community will exit the program at that time.

A committee composed of individuals from education, child development, academia, and early childhood literacy select the books for Dolly’s Imagination Library.  The children’s classic The Little Engine That Could is the first book of each library and Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! By Nancy Carlson is the final book in the collection.  Each book arrives in a polybag and is addressed to the child.

Replication of the Program

For the first 3 years the books were distributed free only to the children of Sevier County.  In December of 1999, Dolly announced that she would extend the opportunity to communities nationally, and even internationally, to replicate her Imagination Library program in their own area.        

Locally, a planning committee has been established, consisting of proposed community sponsors and leaders representing the United Way, Community Foundation, school systems, hospital and literacy organizations.  This committee will likely be expanded as the program is further defined and organized.

These community sponsors have three primary responsibilities of underwriting the cost and mailing of books, registering children for the program, and managing the local database of participants.


Literacy Programs in Miami County

  • Currently, in Miami County, the BOOKS Program – Books Offer Our Kids Success – is in place to provide new books to kindergarten students throughout the county.  The program was built on the premise that students who develop a love of reading and learning are more likely to succeed in school and life.  Kindergartners at South Peru, North Miami and Pipe Creek receive one book (free) per month throughout the school year.  Approximately 500 children are served by this program each year.  The program is funded by company sponsors, individual donors and grants.
  • All babies born at Dukes Hospital receive a Read to Your Bunny book upon leaving the hospital.  The program is underwritten by the local Beta Gamma Chapter of Psi Iota Xi.
  • The Peru Public Library offers a Young People’s Room that provides special services for children and young adults in Miami County.  Their collection consists of picture books, reader books, chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, listening libraries, encyclopedias, magazines, youth video tapes, and wooden toys.  The library also offers a weekly Children’s Reading Time, Summer Reading Program and Wee-Reader Program. 
  • Bona Vista in Peru offers The Keys for Kids Preschool, an innovative program focusing on all aspects of child development.  The program is offered to children aged two to five.  The Early Head Start is a free program, which serves pregnant mothers and children up to their third birthdays.    

Proposed Approach for Imagination Library Implementation

  • Implement a pilot program, which would target birth to 1 year olds – babies born in Miami County (Dukes Hospital only).  (Approximately 350 babies born in Miami County per year.)
  • Each subsequent year, expand the program by one age group each year until all 0-5 year olds included in program
  • Partnership with United Way, Community Foundation, Peru Community Schools, North Miami Community Schools, Maconaquah Community Schools, BOOKS program, Dukes Hospital
  • Program would be available to all – not based on financial need; at no cost to parents
  • The United Way would be the local champion, providing oversight to the registration process, database management process, payment process and receive undeliverable books
  • Dukes Hospital would provide brochures to parents of newborns to register
  • School systems will provide funding and use the information collected for enrollment tracking
  • United Way will coordinate / oversee the enrollment of children into the program, and provide database management and tracking
  • Start Date:  Any births beginning September 1, 2009 
  • Start-up costs for brochures to be funded through The United Way.

Parameters & Requirements

  • Application to the Dolly Foundation includes a Memorandum of Agreement (1-year agreement); Affiliate Information Sheet; Mailing Regulations Form; and Registration Brochure Order Form.
  • Registration brochures are produced (customized for Miami County) by the Dolly Foundation.  $355 for 500 brochures, including shipping.  Turnaround is approximately 5 weeks from request to shipment.
  • Operations Manual is provided by Dolly Foundation that includes instructions for registering children; instructions for database management; website instructions; program information; FAQs; and other resource materials.
  • Average cost of books is approximately $29 per child, per year.  In a 7/23/09 conversation with the Imagination Library Regional Director, Debi Miser (Wallick) and Mary Alexander were told the Dolly Foundation is pursuing the use of softcopy books for 3-4 year olds, beginning in 2010, to cut the costs of books and mailings.  This could result in a savings of $10 per child, per year.  
  • Local Champion / Affiliate (United Way of Miami County) will be billed each month based on the number of books mailed to children.  Names are pulled the 3rd week of the month, each month, for the following month’s mailing.
  • Utilize Dolly Foundation Imagination Database – web-based system, with secure log-in for entering registration information, maintaining current addresses, deleting old records.  Paper registration files (source documents) may be kept locally – possibly as scanned electronic files.

Next Steps

  • Garner community support / business sponsorships / grants to implement the pilot program.
  • Press release / article in local newspaper.  (Article in Peru Tribune, 7/20/09)
  • Execute Memorandum of Agreement.  (Completed, 7/27/09)
  • Order promotional supplies – (1) Imagination Library Train Display; (500) Registration Brochures; (1) News Release Packet; (6) Stand-up Header Card / Brochure Holder Display; (1) Library Display.  (Completed, 7/27/09)
  • Develop a budget.  Finalized
  • Train on the Registration Database system
  • Host a Rollout Event: (Completed 7/27/09)
  • Continue to investigate grant opportunities