July 19, 2017

A Knoxville company’s business is booming thanks to Dolly Parton’s brilliant books initiative


Way way back in 2012 we wrote about the international impact of Dolly Parton’s child literacy initiative, Imagination Library. We offered this bit of background on the project:

Launched by singer/actress Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library is a literacy program run by Parton’s Dollywood Foundation that sends enrolled children a free book every month from the month of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Growing up in rural Sevier County, Tennessee, Parton had friends and relatives who were illiterate, which was part of what led her to start a literacy program in her home county. The Imagination Library has been reproduced in 566 counties in the US, across 36 states, as well as in Canada. In 2007, Parton launched the first UK iteration in Rotherham, and it’s spread to 30 British towns; the addition of Bradford brings the total up to  31.

The story of Dolly’s project is one of non-stop growth — and the once-tiny Knoxville company contracted to manage the original mailings has kept up with an amazingly increased volume.

Direct Mail Services began its relationship with the Dollywood Foundation twenty years ago, mailing 1,000 books per month to children around SeviervilleA few years later, the foundation announced that the program would be open to any communities across that US that wanted to participate, and Direct Mail Services’ business exploded. According to Cortney Roark reporting for the Knoxville News Sentinel, “Today, Direct Mail Services—with a team of 26 people—sends more than 1 million books every month to children across the United States from its location off Middlebrook Pike. The company is on track to mail its 100,000,000th book by the end of 2017.”

Impressively, the company is preparing for more growth, as the foundation remains committed to expanding its reach. Roark reports, “Five percent of the U.S. population younger than 5 years old receives a book through the program. The goal is to reach 10 percent by 2024.” The Imagination Library initiative now constitutes forty to fifty percent of Direct Mail Services’ shipping business.

A symbiosis in which the number of readers in this country with steady access to books can grow in stride with a local business? Can this really be a MobyLives story? Sure. There’s room for a few of this sort every now and then.

But we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.