People behind-the-scenes of the Imagination Library share their passion for the program and its mission.

Who paves the way for Imagination Library books to arrive at a child's home, on time? Who makes sure that each book is addressed properly to each individual child? Who reads every book to evaluate quality, age level and content? Who spends days, weeks, months fundraising to ensure books are free for all registered children? In these Front Porch interviews you'll meet a few of the people who have worked hand-in-hand to grow the program and introduce it to new cities, states and countries. Our Managing Editor, Jacob Timmons, connects via video call with David Dotson, Jeff Conyers and Ann Staup to talk about some of the key milestones of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. They share funny stories, talk about the challenges and rewards and even share their own ideas for writing a children's book.

Growing The Program

David Dotson is the chief executive officer of the Dollywood Foundation, the nonprofit organization which houses the Imagination Library. David joined the Imagination Library team shortly after it launched. He led the initial replication efforts which grew the program. When it started, the Imagination Library mailed around 1600 books to children in Dolly's home county in East Tennessee. When replication of the program was introduced more counties came on board followed by different states and eventually countries. In that effort, David worked closely with Jacob Timmons, who also happens to be president of S.D. Professionals, LLC, the company that created a fully-automated operation that streamlined the entire process for the Imagination Library program. In a recent Zoom call, David and Jacob talked about the early days of replicating the program in new areas.

In the interview, David is also quick to praise the unsung heroes of the Imagination Library. The people who "made our dream, their dream." He said,

"There is always one, two, three, four people in an organization or in a community who are really the heroes, the unknown heroes...They are some of the most talented, most committed, most inspiring people in the world."

The Joy Of Each Book

Jeff Conyers, brought on in 2011, is the President of the Dollywood Foundation and shares David and Jacob's passion for growth and expansion. His devotion to the Imagination Library is unmistakable. The consummate champion for the program, Jeff is devoted to seeing each local affiliate succeed. He credits part of his enthusiasm to experiencing first-hand the benefits of monthly books arriving in the mail. Jeff said,

"I've had the opportunity to see it in my own family, right at home, and watch my kids grow up getting a book in the mail every month. Seeing them run up to me saying, 'Hey, Daddy Daddy, will you read this book to me?' And I know that's happening in millions of homes all across the world right now because of the work that we get to come in and do every day."

1.7 Million Books Each Month

The actual mailing of the books is a critical part of the Imagination Library's story. Jacob called up Ann Staup the owner of Direct Mail Services, Knoxville, TN, to talk about how the books move from a warehouse in East Tennessee to the doorsteps of millions of children. Her business is sometimes referred to as "the little company who could" because they made such incredible strides to facilitate the needs of the program. For Ann and her team, this work is more than a labor of love, it's challenged her to adapt and grow in many ways that she could never have imagined. A mailing list that started at 1600 books in 1995 now increases each month and the current monthly total sitting at 1.7 million books! In the interview, Ann talks about the automated mailing process, her devoted team and milestones she has witnessed over the years. Ann said,

"It's a passion to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure this program grows, the way that Dolly wants it to grow."

Imagination Library Film Premiere

A new feature-length documentary spotlights Dolly Parton's Imagination Library and the thousands of local affiliates around the world who help make Dolly's dream come true. The Library That Dolly Built will premiere on Facebook worldwide on December 9, 2020, at 7 PM EST. Additionally, a European premiere is set for Thursday, December 10 at 7 PM GMT. The film will premiere in Australia on Friday, December 11 at 7 PM AEDT.

The film features the music of Dolly Parton and is narrated by actress and author, Danica McKellar. It is produced by Land Grant Films, directed by journalism professor Nick Geidner, edited by video instructor Clinton Elmore and crewed by 15 University of Tennessee students.

Dolly talks about her Imagination Library's 100 Million Book dedication, program affiliates and the future of the program

On February 27, Dolly dedicated her Imagination Library's 100 Millionth Book to the Library of Congress. We sat down to talk with her about that moment, the amazing program affiliates who help make it all possible and her thoughts on the future of the program.

Dolly spoke about the dedication of the special 100 Millionth Book - “Coat of Many Colors” and how this milestone is not only a celebration of the program but also a celebration of her mother and father.

Dolly also wanted to give credit to the thousands of program affiliates around the world that help make this all possible. Many don't know but it actually takes local affiliate organizations to help administer and fund the Imagination Library within their communities. Dolly understands clearly that they deserve equal thanks for making this amazing milestone possible.

Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has celebrated many milestones. Reaching the 100 Millionth Book Milestone is a true testament to the dedication of many, many people who work to “put more books in the hands of more children.” We asked Dolly about where she saw the Imagination Library going in the future.


About Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a book gifting program that mails free books to children from birth until they begin school in participating communities within Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States. Inspired by her father’s inability to read and write, Dolly Parton started her Imagination Library in 1995 for the children within her home county. Today, the program has mailed over 100 million books to children around the world.

Dolly forms non-profit organization, The Dollywood Foundation, targeted at providing scholarships for seniors at local high schools

With the successful launch of Dollywood in 1986, Dolly’s attention quickly turned to working with the management of the park to identify ways to better serve the children of Sevier County. Although for many years she provided money to help the Sevier County High School band with scholarships, she wanted to do even more for the kids in her hometown.

All agreed there was a need for a foundation to establish and fund these good works. In April of 1988, The Dollywood Foundation was created. The original board members were Dolly, Ted Miller, Barbara Joines, Ken Bell, Charles Kite, Edna Rogers, Jo Blalock, Bob DeBusk, Ann Warden and Jack Parton.

The initial effort was targeted at providing scholarships for seniors at the local high schools and interestingly enough, to encourage the members of Dolly’s fan club to do more to help children. This was an important first step for a home-grown foundation on a journey that would ultimately lead to a global presence positively impacting the lives of millions of children.



All Things Dolly
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