Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Celebrates 5 Years in Charlotte

January 2022

Dolly Parton's Imagination Library is available to children in over 2,000 communities across the world, including Mecklenburg County.


Since launching in 1995, Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has become an internationally recognized early childhood book-gifting program.

Entertainment legend Dolly Parton developed the program so that every preschool child in her home of Sevier County, Tennessee, would have their own library of books to encourage reading and learning. The program was so successful and generated such interest from across the country that Dolly decided to offer her Imagination Library for replication in any community that would support it.

Dolly recognized the power of books early on. As a child, she watched her hardworking, loving father struggle to read and write as he worked diligently to pull his family out of poverty. Therefore, Dolly created a program where all children could access this simple gift without restrictions; there are no income guidelines or harsh requirements.

Now the program is available to children in over 2,000 communities across the world, including Mecklenburg County.

At the time of expansion into the state of North Carolina, Dolly Parton stated,

I am thrilled that my Imagination Library is going to be offered to so many children in North Carolina. Working together, we can help children dream more, learn more, care more, and be more

Smart Start of Mecklenburg County began the initial rollout of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in Charlotte in 2015, distributing books to newborns within zip code 28205. By the fall of that same year, in partnership with Carolinas Medical Center (Atrium Health) and Novant Health, birth registrars began enrolling newborns living in zip codes 28205, 28206, and 28208.

With the help of Read Charlotte and data pulled from the National Assessment of Education Progress, Smart Start of Mecklenburg County mapped out a plan to target families residing in "the crescent," Charlotte's 12 most vulnerable zip codes. Over the next few years, additional zip codes bolstered their service area as funding allowed, focusing on book deserts in Charlotte. In 2017, state legislation provided funding to expand the program countywide. Now every child from birth to five in Mecklenburg County has the opportunity to participate in the program.

The Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a voluntary program. Parents can sign up to receive a new book each month through the Imagination Library at no cost.