Gov. Polis signs bill Tuesday changing oversight of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program in Colorado

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Posted at 11:56 AM, Feb 27, 2024

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis signed HB24-1205 Tuesday to celebrate the success of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in Colorado over the last four years.

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The program gives children one book per month from birth to 5 years old, regardless of their family’s income. Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has donated one million books so far in Colorado since its first year in the state. That's just a fraction of the 200 million total books, as of July 2023, that the program has donated since the program began.

"As partners and librarians, we know the power of books and words. We’ve been on the front lines of this meaningful work for decades," state librarian Nicolle Davies said.

Since the legislation was first passed in 2020 to bring the Imagination Library program to Colorado, it's reached more than 70,000 kids across the state, Gov. Polis said Tuesday.

To celebrate Colorado's Imagination Library distributing one million books, the governor gave a Colorado family with a young son and daughter "The Little Engine that Could" and Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors."

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The governor was joined at the bill signing and book distribution event by the state librarian, state Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Arapahoe and Denver Counties, state Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Arapahoe, Denver and Jefferson Counties, and former state Sen. Jack Tate, R-Araphoe County, and the children's book character Llama Llama.

Sen. Bridges and Sen. Tate sponsored the original legislation establishing an Imagination Library program in Colorado in 2020.

“It’s not often in committee that someone brings in peer-reviewed research. Someone says this is from a journal article and it says, ‘empirically, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library improves Kindergarten readiness and third grade literacy,” Sen. Bridges said. "We know that third grade literacy is one of the most important turning points in a kid's life to determine long-term success. Because until third grade, you learn to read. From third grade on, you read to learn."

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The Queen of Country's Imagination Library first began nearly two decades prior in 1995. Books were originally only distributed to children living in Sevier County, Tennessee, where Parton grew up. But it grew quickly, becoming a national program in 2000, reaching a total of one million books by 2003. And it's now offered in Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The 2020 bill signing in Colorado expanded the Imagination Library to 30 programs serving portions of all 64 of the state's counties.

The Imagination Library of Denver helps kids in 15 Denver neighborhoods - Five Points, North Washington, Sunnyside, Cole, LoHi, Whitteir, Northeast Park Hill, Curtis Park, Chaffee Park, North Federal Blvd., Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, East Colfax, Old San Rafael and Clayton.

The Pikes Peak United Way manages the program in El Paso and Teller Counties.

To sign up for the program, click here.

Current Colorado law requires the state librarian in the department of education to oversee the Colorado Imagination Library program and to contract with a Colorado nonprofit organization to operate the program. HB24-1205 will now require the department of early childhood to oversee the Colorado imagination library program.

This bill has bipartisan support with state legislators from both sides of the aisle sponsoring the measure - including Rep. Sirota, Rep. Rick Taggart, R-Mesa County, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Adams and Jefferson Counties, and Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Larimer and Weld Counties.

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It allows the state "to partner with eligible non-profits to procure more books and expand the program's reach," the governor's office said in a news release Tuesday following the event.

The goal of the bill is to get "more books into the hands of kids at an early age," Rep. Sirota said.

And the benefits continue after kids age out of the program, Gov. Polis added, as children are more engaged in local public libraries.

"It’s something that many of us take for granted, but it’s important to know there are a lot of barriers to getting age-appropriate books," Gov. Polis said Tuesday.

Gov. Polis signs bill changing oversight of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

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