Dolly Parton has worn many hats over the years, including entertainer, singer, songwriter, and philanthropist, to name a few. But the title she perhaps is most proud of comes from the mouths of children, who know her as “The Book Lady.”
Over the span of her legendary career, 72-year-old Parton has worn the virtue of generosity like a necklace, constantly helping others. Parton has become an icon not just for her ability to entertain, but for her willingness to step up and give.
In 1995, Parton founded her Imagination Library, which recently celebrated a major milestone. The library’s early goals were to provide free books to children in Parton’s hometown, and in the past 20 years, it has grown into a global book-giving program.
Parton was inspired to start the library in honor of her late father, Robert Lee Parton Sr., who died in 2000.
Although he never learned to read or write, Parton still credits her father as being the smartest man she knew.
Sitting in front of a Washington, D.C. crowd at the Library of Congress, Parton joked about her “book lady” title and “Mother Goose” personality. “I never thought about being ‘the book lady,'” she grinned, as children’s eyes and ears watched her with wonderment.
“The painted lady, yes, the overexaggerated lady,” she joked, as the crowd erupted in laughter. “That goes to show you can’t judge a book by lookin’ at the cover.”
Parton was thrilled to celebrate the Imagination Library’s latest and greatest milestone: 100 million books donated to children around the world. On Feb. 27, Parton donated the 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress, her children’s book “Coat of Many Colors.”
Parton chatted with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and then read her book to a nearby group of children. She even sang a little, enamoring the children staring up at her as if she were, indeed, a real-life Mother Goose.
“Dolly Parton’s work through her Imagination Library is awe-inspiring,” said Hayden.
“They have counted the number of books given away – 100 million – but there is no way to truly quantify the impact this program has had on developing young readers across America and in other parts of the world.”
Parton has been a longstanding advocate of the importance of reading. “If you can read, you can educate yourself,” Parton told Forbes in 2016.
“Even if you’re not able to afford to go to college, if you can read, you can find out about any subject that you’re interested in.”
Parton emphasized the importance of getting books into the hands of children, and said the library still has more to give.
Her library legacy may just be her most long-lasting contribution to the world.
“Of all the things I’ve done in my life — and it’s been a lot because I’ve been around — this is the most precious,” she said. “Maybe we’ll be back for a billion.”
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