Monday, March 5, 2018

Dolly Parton Gives The Gift Of Literacy: A Library Of 100 Million Books

The Library of Congress hosted a very special guest at story time this week:

Dolly Parton.

The country music legend is also a champion of early childhood literacy, through her Imagination Library. Every month, the nonprofit program mails a free book to more than a million children — from infants to preschoolers.

Parton visited the Library of Congress on Tuesday to celebrate a major milestone in the Imagination Library's history: delivery of its 100 millionth book. Not bad for a program Parton founded more than two decades ago as a small, local effort to help kids in her native Sevier County, Tennessee.

"We never thought it would be this big," she told NPR in a quiet, wood-paneled 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."

Parton's inspiration for the Imagination Library was deeply personal: her father, Robert Lee Parton. 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 was determined to give the children of Sevier County something her father never had: early access to books. She started the Imagination Library in 1995 and involved her father, too. He 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." READ MORE