“Ethiopia Reads” founder to keynote American Library Association President’s Program

Contacts: Macey Morales/Jennifer Petersen

ALA Media Relations

312-280-4393 / 5043

mmorales@ala.org /


For Immediate Release

December 22, 2009

CHICAGO - Yohannes Gebregeorgis, founder and executive director of Ethiopia Reads, will serve as keynote speaker for the American Library Association’s (ALA) President’s Program 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 17 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The program will take place as more than 11,000 of the nation’s library leaders convene in Boston for the ALA Midwinter Meeting held Jan. 15 – 19.

Ethiopia Reads focuses on his organization’s literacy work. The organization encourages a love of reading by establishing children's and youth libraries in Ethiopia, free distribution of books to children and multilingual publishing. The organization’s founder, Gebregeorgis was selected as one of CNN's Top 10 Heroes in 2008 for his work in establishing children's libraries in Ethiopia.

“The ALA is thrilled that Mr. Gebregeorgis has accepted our invitation to speak to the nation’s library leaders on the value of libraries,” said ALA President Camila Alire. “In a world where knowledge is power, libraries make communities more powerful! By motivating children to read, librarians are creating lifelong readers, and that makes for better citizens and sets the cornerstone for democracy.

“Without reading, everything in life is harder. Low literacy is linked to poverty, crime, dependence on government assistance and poor health. And research has shown that parents who struggle with reading pass this legacy on to their children.”

In his native Ethiopia, Gebregeorgis has established libraries and literacy programs to connect Ethiopian children with books.

“Books change lives - of individuals, communities and nations for good,” said Gebregeorgis.

Forced to flee Ethiopia to the United States as a political refugee in 1981, Gebregeorgis put himself through college, obtaining a graduate degree in Library and Information Science. It wasn't until he became a children's librarian at the San Francisco Public Library Children’s section in 1985 that he realized what the children of his native home were missing.

Gebregeorgis quickly realized that due to prohibitive publishing, purchasing and importing costs in his home country, there were no children’s books available in Amharic, the primary language of Ethiopia, and none representing the places and characters of Ethiopian lore. This inspired him to produce an Amharic children’s book, "Silly Mammo," the first bilingual Amharic-English children's book. He then established Ethiopia Reads in 1988. Using proceeds from book sales and grassroots book-a-thons, the nonprofit financed his efforts to bring children's libraries to Ethiopia.

In 2002, Gebregeorgis returned to Ethiopia with 15,000 books, most of it donated by the San Francisco Public Library. With them, he opened the Shola Children's Library on the first floor of his home. Young readers quickly overwhelmed the three-room home, requiring the addition of two large tents to provide shade for hundreds at a time.

Ethiopia Reads established the Awassa Reading Center and Ethiopia's first Donkey Mobile Library, which makes weekly visits to rural villages around Awassa.

For more information, see the ALA Web site at
www.ala.org/midwinter . For advance press registration or to schedule interviews, call (312) 280-4393 or 5043 before January 14 or visit the ALA Press Room onsite at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.