IN Brief

Readin’ 9 to 5: Dolly Parton Imagination Library kicks off statewide in Indiana

By: - August 25, 2023 6:00 am

A cutout of Dolly Parton at the Imagination Library kickoff on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at the Indiana State Library. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Hoping to pour up a few extra cups of reading ambition for Hoosier kids, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library officially expanded to all of Indiana on Thursday.

The program gifts free, high quality, age-appropriate books to children from birth to age five on a monthly basis, regardless of family income.

Although some Indiana municipalities already participate in the Imagination Library, Gov. Holcomb included a statewide expansion of the Imagination Library in his 2023 legislative agenda.

The General Assembly earmarked $6 million for the program in the state’s new biennial budget — $2 million in the first year and $4 million in the second — to ensure that all Hoosier kids qualify to receive free books.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb poses next to a Dolly Parton cutout at the Indiana State Library on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (Photo from Holcomb’s Flickr)

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead — a lot of catching up to do,” Holcomb said during a kickoff event Thursday at the Indiana State Library. “Our kiddos have got to learn to read, so they can read to learn. That couldn’t be more important than it is today.”

The Indiana State Library will coordinate the program and provide the state’s match to interested organizations or individuals to become local program partners. Currently, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is available in 54 counties and partially available in eight counties. 

Starting Sept. 1, current local Imagination Library partners will only pay 50% of their local program cost, with the remaining 50% paid by the state, according to the governor’s office.

The effort comes just one week after new state test results showed that one in five Hoosier third graders continue to struggle with foundational reading skills. The results are nearly stagnant from the last academic year, causing state officials to double down on their calls to direct urgent literacy help to the state’s younger students.

So far, part of that effort has included a statewide literacy instruction shift to implement the science of reading to improve students’ reading skills.

Still, Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said Indiana is continuing to “pour ourselves a big ol’ cup of ambition” in sticking with a statewide goal to get 95% of Hoosier third graders proficient at reading by 2027. As of this spring, only 242 Indiana schools have reached that goal.

Enroll a child or sign up to be notified when a local program becomes available by visiting

“It’s a commitment that will require more than just nine to five work,” Jenner said Thursday. “The only behavior measure that correlates significantly with reading scores is the number of books in the home. … This program helps us do just that, beginning at birth.”

Jenner said the Imagination Library also further encourages families to be more involved in their children’s education. She emphasized that parents should aim to read with their kids at least 20 to 30 minutes each day.

“Yes, 2027 is right around the corner, relatively speaking, especially when you’re wanting to change the trajectory that we’re currently on,” Holcomb said. “But these are exactly the kinds of programs we need to do. We need to hit it home, and we need to hit it at school … this is a way to get at it … it’s a book that’s going to literally open up a world of opportunity.”

“We need to be thinking about how to catch up with the competition,” he continued. “Most importantly for their sake, not ours — for the kiddos.”


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.