Law bans shredding of Imagination Library books

Apr. 25, 2014 @ 11:04 PM

On Tuesday, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law a bill banning the U.S. Postal Service from destroying books from the Imagination Library program that were deemed undeliverable in Tennessee.

Now officials at the Dollywood Foundation are trying to figure out exactly what it means to the organization, which estimates it will send out 8.6 million free books to children in the U.S. this year.

"It's a welcome show of support from both the legislature and the governor," Jeff Conyers, executive director of the Dollywood Foundation said Thursday. "It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

"But I don't know if it's more than a show of support."

Conyers said it's unknown how the law will affect USPS procedures, if at all. The postal service is under the direction of the federal government and not the state of Tennessee.

The legislation was taken up during the recent session after recent developments condemned most undelivered Imagination Library books to shredding, despite never having been opened.

Approximately 172,000 books are not delivered in the U.S. each year. That is just 2 percent of the total number sent, but it's still a large number of children's books that go to waste.

Last year, some post offices in the Tennessee district of USPS, and others around the country, began destroying books that were addressed incorrectly or deemed otherwise undeliverable.

A spokesperson from the postal service said last year that the Dollywood Foundation — a nonprofit organization — was unwilling to pay a return fee and instead wanted the post office to hold returned books for volunteers to pick up on trips to their individual post offices.

“They are wanting to go pick those books up without paying that return fee,” David Walton, spokesman for Tennessee District of U.S. Postal Service told the Maryville Daily Times in February 2013.

“We can’t afford that," he continued. "They are wanting to ... bypass that fee that most other mailers pay. For some time, they have been getting away with that. It’s costing us money. We didn’t change any policy. We just wised up to what was going on. They can pay for this forwarding service, but obviously, they are not.”

Conyers said for years the postal service had allowed the pickups, and he believes paying for the books to be destroyed is actually more expensive than simply allowing them to be picked up by foundation volunteers.

"Our relationship with the postal service has never changed before now," Conyers said. "When an undeliverable came back to the post office, what that local postmaster would then do was set it in a bin and once every week or couple of weeks an Imagination Library volunteer would come by and get those books," and take them Pre-K classrooms, doctor's offices, etc.

"There are a lot of wonderful ways that these books can be put to use in the community," Conyers said.

Conyers said that currently, the USPS is inconsistent in how it deals with undeliverable mail.

"There are exceptions to (destroying them)," he said. "If food is mailed, but it's undeliverable, it's taken to a food bank or something like that. 

"That's because it's ridiculous to destroy food," he said. "It's our argument that it's ridiculous to destroy books."

The Dollywood Foundation has spent nearly $15 million with the USPS since 2003. It projects that it will spend another $17 million in the next five years as the program continues its rapid expansion.