ALA names honorary member

For Immediate Release
Tue, 05/03/2011


JoAnne Kempf

CHICAGO – Yohannes Gebregeorgis was elected to honorary membership in the American Library Association (ALA) in action taken by the ALA Council at the ALA 2011 Midwinter Meeting, held January 7 to 11 in San Diego.  Honorary Membership, ALA’s highest honor, is conferred in recognition of outstanding contributions of lasting importance to libraries and librarianship.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis was nominated in recognition of his founding Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit organization that is establishing children's libraries in Ethiopia and publishing bilingual and trilingual children's books, thereby providing the children an opportunity to learn the love of reading and increasing literacy in an entire nation.  Gebregeorgis has been called a “story book hero” and a “pied piper of children” for the work that he accomplished by bringing libraries and literacy to the children of Ethiopia.    

Gebregeorgis was a student revolutionary, did a stint in the Ethiopian navy, actively opposed the military government, fled the country and took refuge in a camp in Sudan, and ultimately gained asylum in the U.S. as a political refugee.  He obtained a bachelor's degree at the University of Buffalo, and then a Masters in Library Science at the University of Texas.  While working as a children’s librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, he was given a small sum of money to purchase books in his native language, Amharic.  Finding none, he took it upon himself to write "Silly Mammo" a bilingual book based upon an Ethiopian folk tale. 

With the proceeds from the sale of "Silly Mammo," Gebregeorgis returned to Ethiopia to set up a nonprofit organization, Ethiopian Books for Children Educational Foundation, more commonly known as Ethiopia Reads.  He set up the first children’s library in the first floor of his home, and has set up two public children’s libraries, over 40 school library partnerships, and five donkey mobile libraries.  In addition, Gebregeorgis has established the annual Children’s Book Week.  He also established the Golden Kuraz award, a Caldecott-type award for the best illustrated book by an Ethiopian author.  In 2008, Gebregeorgis was named one of 30 CNN Heroes and then selected to be a Top 10 Hero by an acclaimed panel of judges including Jane Goodall, Deepak Chopra, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Jeffrey Sachs.

Gebregeorgis will receive an honorary membership plaque in June during the Opening General Session of the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.