A cutout of Dolly Parton in front of the Colonel James Anderson Monument near the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. Photo by Roman Hladio.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is once again sending free books to Pittsburgh families following its April shutdown due to a lack of funding.

The program mails carefully selected books to children up to 5 years old once a month at registered households, says Pittsburgh City Councilperson Bobby Wilson, whose office spearheaded the program’s return.

“[The children] seem to really take pride in their own books,” Wilson says. “That’s one thing that always stuck with me in terms of what the parents that I’ve met with that were involved in the program. That’s a big reason why we want to keep this going.”

The Pittsburgh partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library began in 2019 with a grant that provided approximately $250,000 in funding, Wilson says. The program is now directly supported by partnerships with organizations such as The Benter Foundation — which supported the first interation of the Imagination Library — and Reading Ready Pittsburgh.

The relaunch was announced at a press conference on Thursday in front of the Colonel James Anderson Monument at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s MuseumLab, formerly the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. 

City Councilperson Bobby Wilson announces the relaunch of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Pittsburgh. Photo by Roman Hladio.

According to Benter Foundation Executive Director Kathy Buechel, Anderson would loan books to the working boys of Allegheny City, one of whom was Andrew Carnegie, thus sparking a joy for reading and a desire to share with others through the Carnegie Library system.

“These examples really do underscore today’s message — that having access to books early in life unlocks a circle of possibilities,” Buechel said at the press conference.

Also in attendance was City of Pittsburgh Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak and Dollywood Foundation Regional Director Lauren Wirt.

“The Little Engine That Could” is the first book children recieve as part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The book sits in front of MuseumLab, which was formerly the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. Photo by Roman Hladio.

The mayor’s office was ardently in support of the program’s return. (“Bob, get it done,” Mayor Ed Gainey told Wilson.) Both Pawlak and Wilson have children who have received books through the program. 

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Pittsburgh is operating with an initial investment of $64,000 over its first six months, with additional partnerships to extend funding coming in the future, Buechel said. In the future, the city will begin the hiring process for a full-time coordinator who will publicize the program and maintain the Pittsburgh partnership’s long-term goals.

“I have a 4 1/2-year-old daughter who has a very well-worn copy of [“The Little Engine That Could”] that she received from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library as one of, I think, the earliest waves of children who were able to sign up when the program launched,” Pawlak told the gathering. 

“I’m particularly excited as the deputy mayor, but also as a father of a young child, to be standing here today to reactivate this program and its important investment in the future of our community.”

Families previously enrolled in the program do not need to re-register and can expect to begin receiving monthly books again in the near future. To enroll, visit Reading Ready Pittsburgh’s website.

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.