Governor Mills Announces Statewide Expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Maine
Portland, MAINE – During a virtual discussion with iconic singer-songwriter Dolly Parton at the National Governor’s Association today, Governor Janet Mills announced that the State of Maine is launching a statewide expansion of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 2023.
The Imagination Library of Maine will mail high-quality, age appropriate books to children from birth until age five every month, no matter their family’s income. The program is dedicated to improving the lives of children by inspiring a love of reading with books, andis free to enrolled children and families.
As part of the recent bipartisan budget, Governor Mills proposed, and the Legislature approved, a $200,000 investment to implement the program, which will be administered by the Maine State Library. Together, The Dollywood Foundation and the Maine State Librarywill develop an implementation strategy this year with local libraries, community non-profits, the Maine Department of Education, and school systems – to establish and expand the program in the coming years. By the end of 2023, the State of Maine and the Imagination Library hope to have sent an initial 106,000 books to more than 14,000 children across Maine.
Maine is the 13th state to commit to achieving statewide coverage of the program.
“We know the simple act of reading to a child stimulates brain development, reduces stress and anxiety, builds vocabulary, and develops the literacy skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Today, we are taking another step forward to help make that happen by delivering books free of charge to Maine kids. Maine is proud to join the family of states that participate in the Imagination Library. On behalf of all Maine children who will be served by this program in the years to come, I thank the one-and-only Dolly Parton.”
“The Maine State Library is excited to be able to administer this program that will eventually connect tens of thousands of families and Maine children with wonderful books sent right to their homes,” said State Librarian James Ritter. “Working with Maine’s libraries and other organizations, we will have the opportunity to foster and grow generations of young readers through the Imagination Library, and for every child that learns to read, we know we are helping to build a community of lifelong learners.”
The Imagination Library builds on the Mills Administration’s commitment to increasing childhood literacy in Maine, including investing $10 million through the Governor’s Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan to create and expand pre-school programs across Maine.
The Administration is also creating “Literacy for ME 2.0” to revamp its statewide literacy plan and the Maine Association for Improving Literacy to mobilize a network of educators who are committed to supporting statewide literacy efforts.
This summer, the Maine Department of Education will also be hosting its first ever Educator Summit to train our teachers in the most effective, evidence-based practices for increasing childhood literacy. Every year, the Department also sponsors the statewide “Read to Me” challenge to encourage adults to read to their children.
In 2019, about 57 percent of fourth grade students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch scored below proficiency reading levels while 33 percent of students who are not eligible for free or reduced lunch scored below proficiency reading levels. However, Maine is ranked fifth in the nation for the percentage of parents with children aged 0 to 5 who read to their children every day (46.9 percent).
Dolly Parton founded the Imagination Library in 1995 as a way to distribute books to the impoverished Tennessee county where she grew up. The State of Tennessee quickly adopted the program statewide, and, since then, the nonprofit program has expanded into five countries. As of June 2022, the Imagination Library has gifted 184,615,046 books with over 2 million kids currently registered.
According to The Dollywood Foundation, 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the age of five, making that time period critically important for their development that can be enhanced by reading books. The Foundation notes that daily readings by parents or caregivers provide the greatest opportunity to prepare their child for school and that literacy is a major social determinant of health and economic impact in the long-term.