Arkansas Imagination Library’s (ARIL) mission is to increase literacy in Arkansas by ensuring all young children across the state may participate in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. ARIL believes reading begins at birth, the benefits of a home library go far beyond the books, and parents/guardians are a child’s first and best teacher. By providing books at no cost to families, the Imagination Library increases childhood literacy rates, fosters a love of books, and promotes a culture of reading among underserved families in high-risk communities of Arkansas.
History of the Program
In 1995, Dolly Parton launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (an initiative of the Dollywood Foundation) to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. To date, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL) mails free, age-appropriate books to over 1.5 million children each month directly to their home from birth to age five in participating communities within the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the Republic of Ireland. Dolly’s homegrown effort is now a part of thousands of communities’ early childhood strategies and is increasingly a vital part of educational policy for states, provinces, and territories.
In the United States, the Imagination Library has grown to reach children in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. State-wide coverage was established in Tennessee in 2004, and North Carolina’s legislature approved funding to expand statewide in 2017. In all other states, the program is available in communities where a local partner has teamed up with the Imagination Library. Those partners can be nonprofits, state agencies, school districts, or a public library system. Any child from 0 to 5 is eligible to enroll. Local partners are responsible for promoting their program, enrolling children who live in their geographical area, and securing funds to cover the cost of the books and shipping ($25.20 per child per year).
In return, DPIL chooses, sources, and ships the books to all registered children; addressed to them, at no cost to the child’s family. A panel of early childhood literacy experts, nicknamed Dolly’s Blue Ribbon Panel, selects the age-appropriate books, which are organized around themes and concepts, and include two bilingual Spanish-English books per year. Audio and braille versions of the books are also available. The choices range from time-tested titles like The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter to contemporary classics such as Newbery Medal winner Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena.
In 2002, local communities throughout Arkansas started county affiliates to deliver books in the natural state. By 2016, the local affiliates were delivering approximately 16,700 books each month to children in Arkansas. In July 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson provided a one-time gift to create the Arkansas Imagination Library (ARIL), a statewide 501c3 nonprofit organization that works with local affiliates to expand the program. As a licensed partner of DPIL, ARIL strives to increase literacy in Arkansas by ensuring all young children across the state may participate in the Imagination Library. Since 2017, ARIL worked with local communities and grew the program from 54 to all 75 counties; increasing the number of children receiving books from 16,700 to over 40,000, and getting quality books to children in rural communities that may not have a school or public library.
By providing books at no cost to families, the Imagination Library increases childhood literacy rates, fosters a love of books, and promotes a culture of reading among underserved families in high-risk communities of Arkansas.
How Imagination Library Works
Once your child is registered through your home-county affiliate (click here for a list of participating counties), they will receive a free, age-appropriate, brand new book MAILED TO THEIR HOME every month until their fifth birthday.
In the News
PBS NewsHour sat down with Dolly Parton back in 2013 and profiled her and her involvement in the Imagination Library early childhood literacy program. The program is active in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.