She wants the organization to reach one billion donated books in her lifetime.
Dolly Parton is best known for her status as a country music legend, but now she’s celebrating another achievement — the donation of 100 million childrens books through her nonprofit, Imagination Library.
Imagination Library gives books every month to children in need, from infancy to preschoolers. The Library of Congress hosted the musician last week, where Parton read to children and delivered the organization’s 100 millionth book.
Parton launched the initiative in 1995 to help children in Sevier County, Tennessee, where the singer grew up. Since then, the program has taken off and now expands not only nationwide, but in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia as well.
“We never thought it would be this big,” Parton told NPR. “I just wanted to do something great for my dad and for my home county and, at the most, maybe a couple of counties over. But then it just took wings of its own, and I guess it was meant to be.”
Parton began Imagination Library in honor of her father, Robert Lee Parton. Her father had to work at a young age to help his family, so he never had the chance to attend school as a boy and was illiterate.
“Daddy couldn’t read and write, and that was kind of crippling to him,” Parton told NPR. “He was such a smart man, though. He just had such good common sense… But Daddy thought it was just something he couldn’t learn after he was grown, so he never tried to learn to read and write. And that was just kind of embarrassing to him. But I didn’t want Daddy to feel embarrassed.”
Through Imagination Library, Parton works to make sure children have early access to books no matter what their situation at home is like. Her father passed away in 2000, but was involved with the nonprofit when it was founded and lived to see its national effort begin.
“He got to hear the kids call me, ‘The Book Lady,'” Parton said. “He got a big kick out of that. But he took great pride and felt like he’d helped me do something special.”
Though reaching 100 million donated books is a huge accomplishment, Parton still has high ambitions for Imagination Library and said she wants the organization to reach one billion donated books in her lifetime.