JEFFERSONVILLE — When people think of a library, they often default to the image of a traditional brick-and-mortar book lending establishment.
Jeffersonville's newest library, however, will operate a bit differently. Hundreds of Jeffersonville children will soon be receiving new books each month for their own personal collections at no cost as part of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.
Since launching in 1995, the Imagination Library program has mailed more than 123.5 million books to nearly 1.5 million children in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Several counties in the surrounding area — including Floyd, Harrison, Scott and Washington counties in Indiana and Jefferson County, Ky. — already had the program in place. When John Ashton became interested in signing his child up, he was surprised to learn that there was no option in Clark County.
“It started with my son," Ashton said. "We were at home, and I saw something about the Imagination Library on TV. I had heard of it before, so I wanted to sign my son up. But it said we don’t have one here."
From there, Ashton and his wife, Kate, took it upon themselves to spearhead the initiative in the county.
"It said I could start one, so I clicked on it," Ashton said. "I was interested in learning more how to start a program. None of this would've happened without my wife. She's been there the whole time pushing this along with me."
The motivating driver for getting the project off the ground was its success in other areas. Clark County's Imagination Library, Ashton thought, could be a similarly positive addition to the community.
“People think of it as a lending library, but it is a book gifting program," Ashton said. "Children ages 0 to 5 get one new book for each month, which means they get 60 books over the course of the program. They're books that are selected by a panel of writers, educators and other professionals to make recommendations. It’s been a great program, and it does a lot of good."
Some states, Ashton said, provide funding for the program. Others, like Clark County's, require some independent fundraising.
To find sources for partnerships, Ashton went to work making the rounds at local organizations and government entities. He began at Community Action of Southern of Indiana.
“We’re probably going to be enrolling students at a higher-than-average place," Ashton said. "We already have 400 people who have signed up as interested. CASI is sponsoring students for us. They’re going to enroll all of the Head Start kids once we start."
For monetary support, Ashton went to the Jeffersonville City Council. His initial appearance before the council ended with a request on statistics regarding the impact of the program locally.
With data in hand, Ashton went before the council once more this week. Council members then approved a contribution of $13,000 for this year.
“When we look at all of our kids and how many don’t have access to these things, for them to have books coming in once a month and them being able to have somebody help them with reading, I think it’s wonderful," at-large council member Ron Ellis said. "I remember as a kid getting books from the yard sales back then and reading. That’s one of the things that I’ve always done with my kids and grandkids, help them read, especially with my grandson. I take him to church on Sunday and sit him on my lap and read him Bible stories."
That money will help launch the Imagination Library, but more funding will be needed moving forward. According to figures from the program's website, the program costs about $25 per student annually, which adds up to $125 for each student that commits to the program for the full five years of eligibility.
"The average Dolly Parton Imagination Library has 60 percent participation from the community," Ashton said. "If that’s the case, we’ll have 1,800 in Jeff alone, and 3,600 countywide. It will take five years or so to get there, but we’ll have to get funding partners going forward. We don’t want to just do this for a couple of years.”
Ellis too said he wants to see the program not only find success early on, but continue to grow and progress into the future.
"If we have books that children can have access to, it’s only going to help them in the future," Ellis said. "It’s going to help them in school and with their understanding of the world going further. I think it’s one of the best things we can do moving forward for our community. When we put books in their hands, we’re enabling them to be our future. They can take over where we leave off."
Ashton said donations can be sent to CASI at 1613 E 8th St., Jeffersonville, IN 47130, until the Imagination Library's Facebook donation page launches in the coming weeks.