Newstrack: Dolly Parton, library partnership hits 50 percent enrollment in first year

Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation explains how some books that are part of
Charity Tyler executive director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation explains how some books that are part of the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program are printed in Spanish as she shows some of the books at the foundation’s offices in the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s downtown location in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, March 8, 2018. The program helps children build a love of reading and their personal libraries by mailing one book to their house each month from birth until they turn five years old. Children receive “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” on their fifth birthday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)


Last year, the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation became an affiliate of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a national initiative in which 1 million books a month are mailed to children up to age 5.

Children of all income levels participate for free in hopes of boosting literacy as children get ready for kindergarten.

When the affiliation in Cedar Rapids was announced in May 2018, library officials targeted 80 percent enrollment — 7,300 of the 9,100 eligible children in Cedar Rapids — by the program’s fourth year. This would require an annual fundraising commitment of $185,000, they said.

What has happened since

A year into the affiliation, enrollment has reached 50 percent of eligible children, library officials announced last week, and enrollment is increasing each month, despite losses from graduation or kids leaving the area, said Charity Tyler, executive director of the library foundation.

“It has gone really well,” Tyler said. “I believe our success is the result of our community collaborations.”

YPN (Young Parents Network) and HACAP (Hawkeye Area Community Action Program) WIC clinics, hospitals, and other nonprofit partners played key roles in getting children enrolled, she said.

In January, the Imagination Library mailed books to 4,587 children, and 45,216 books have been mailed to children in Cedar Rapids since the program’s launch. The local program also has graduated 522 children who’ve turned 5, according to a news release from the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

They’ve hit fundraising targets thus far, and the goal increases to $155,000 for 2020, she said. Tyler has begun working on next year already, and said she is creating an individual contribution option that should launch this spring.


The Dollywood Foundation covers overhead by providing an enrollment database, book selection, book ordering and the shipping processes, while the library foundation, through fundraising, covers the costs of books and postage for children living in Cedar Rapids.

Affiliation with the Imagination Library network allows for high-volume purchasing, reducing costs to $2.10 per book per month, or $25 per child per year or $125 per child for five years.

“Research released in 2010 shows that children who grow up with books in their home achieve on average three more years of education than those who do not,” said Cedar Rapids Public Library Director Dara Schmidt. “It is important to us that we are removing barriers to access books in the home so every child is ready to read upon entering kindergarten.”

To participate, parents or guardians can fill out an official registration form at either of the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s locations, or online at The only requirement is for caregivers to read to their children and notify the library of changes in address.

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