Governors Meet with Dolly Parton at the NGA Summer Meeting

Governors met with Dolly Parton for a discussion about early child literacy efforts, including Parton’s Imagination Library program that mails free books to children.

Dolly Parton made a virtual appearance during the 2022 NGA Summer Meeting to join Governors in a discussion about early childhood literacy efforts. The conversation  focused on Ms. Parton’s Imagination Library, a program that mails free books to children from birth to kindergarten, and the work states can do to partner with the program.

Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 to foster a love of reading for the children within her home county in Tennessee. Today, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is the world’s preeminent early childhood book-gifting program that is dedicated to inspiring a love of reading. In partnership with local affiliate partners, the program mails high quality, age-appropriate books to children from birth to age five – at no cost to families. Imagination Library has also been working with Governors to launch partnerships between Imagination Library and states.

The Governors’ meeting with Ms. Parton explored ways states and Governors have been partnering with Imagination Library to make the program available to every child living in a state that forms a statewide partnership with Imagination Library. To date, the following states have partnered with Imagination Library: Arkansas, Delaware, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.

Ms. Parton told Governors the program is growing by leaps and bounds, sharing “kids do love it. It’s a wonderful thing in the most impressionable years to get them interested in reading.” Ms. Parton also highlighted the work Imagination Library is doing to partner with states, telling Governors “we’re wanting to go statewide for sure in all the states in in the United States, and we’re making a pretty good start at that. So we just want to be able to, as I mentioned early on, to put more books in the hands of more children. And I think it’s so important in their most impressionable years … and we’re just wanting to do better, to do more.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson started the meeting by sharing details about welcoming Dolly Parton to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion in May to celebrate the news that Imagination Library is now available in each county in Arkansas, reflecting “if she hasn’t made it to every county in your state, just wait. And let’s see what we can do to help make that happen.” Governor Hutchinson also said, “As we all know, the NGA is focused on bipartisan solutions, and it doesn’t get more bipartisan than the topic of this session. Democrat or Republican, old or young, country or rock & roll, everyone loves Dolly Parton … It’s not just the genius of her song writing or the beauty of her music, Dolly Parton’s philanthropy and service to her country just may be her lasting and most profound legacy.” 

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine shared, through prerecorded video, information about Ohio’s work to make the program available to all of Ohio’s children, no matter where they live, with Governor DeWine noting, “once I became Governor, we knew we wanted to take this program statewide. So we got to work” by personally inviting state lawmakers to the Governor’s residence to discuss this program, and now “our efforts to enroll more kids include working with libraries across the state of Ohio. We also work with WIC services, and we work with foster care families.”

Governor John Carney of Delaware shared details about Ms. Parton’s recent visit to Delaware to celebrate the statewide expansion of the Imagination Library program. The Governor shared, “In our state of just under a million people, more than 23,000 children have been enrolled in the program. And those children have received more than 400,000 books, delivered to their homes, with their names on it, at no cost to the families. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library’s a simple, but powerful idea, and as the research as well as common sense as shown, it works. Like most of you, I’m sure, one of our main priorities is to make sure that every child in our state can read proficiently at grade three. What a great way to accomplish that goal.”

During the discussion, Maine Governor Janet Mills announced that Maine is launching a statewide expansion of the Imagination Library in 2023. The Governor shared that Maine’s “legislature approved my budget request for the Immigration Library in Maine, this spring, and our state librarian will be administering the program, and we’re ready to get rolling. We want to make sure that every child from zero to five years old in Maine has the advantage of this program because it’s inspiring, it gives them a feeling of self-esteem.”

In response to the news Governor Mills announced, Dolly Parton responded, “that is absolutely wonderful news. Thank you so much. We’re growing with leaps and bounds, and different states are beginning to take us on, and we’re just so excited to be putting books in the hands of more children all around the world, and Maine, I’m so happy you’ve taken us on.”

Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana discussed how his state has worked to partner with the United Way to help deliver the program. The Governor also noted “we know that if kids can read at grade level proficiently in second and third grade, they don’t just do better in elementary school. They don’t just do better in K-12; they’re going to have a better life.”

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