The Library Project’s Story
The Library Project started back in 2006 with two simple library donations, and has grown into an organization that on average donates one library a day to rural elementary schools, orphanages and community centers in China and Vietnam. This is our story.
A Simple Idea
It all started in 2006 with five friends, including TLP founder Tom Stader, who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children living in two orphanages in Dalian, China. Their simple idea was to donate a small library of children’s books to each orphanage. The friends held a used book drive at six local Aston English Schools in hopes of collecting a couple hundred books for each orphanage. After just one week, they had collected over 4,000 children’s books. Tom Stader then reached out to his friends and family and raised $500 to purchase tables, chairs, bookshelves, globes, lighting, and plants for the two small libraries. Two weeks later, both the Dalian Children’s Orphanage and the Dalian Children’s Shelter received beautiful new libraries.
After the initial donations, they shared photos and stories with those who donated money. Soon after, something amazing happened—people kept donating small amounts of money.
Tom Stader then moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and in his spare time continued to provide books to schools and orphanages, when the donated funds allowed. At this point, it was a small grassroots endeavor, but their simple idea was growing.
After donating two libraries and seven in Vietnam, The Library Project had not grown far beyond the original idea. Tom was working full time at a multimedia company and using whatever spare hours he could find to source schools and donations for additional libraries. Progress was slow. At this time, Tom received an email that would change his life and ultimately effect the lives of thousands of children throughout Asia. The email came from a friend of a friend who wanted to donate $10,000. It was by far the biggest donation the organization had received but there was a catch. The donor wanted Tom to dedicate himself full time to The Library Project and turn it from a simple idea into something that could truly make a difference on a large scale.
The Library Project was official. Within a month, Tom had a name for the organization, a fun logo, a mission statement, and a rock solid Board of Directors. He quit his job, packed up his things, moved to Xi’an, China (TLP’s new headquarters), and hired his first employee.
After a few months of operation, TLP hit its first roadblocks—they were running out of money fast and they had a difficult time locating local schools in need. They knew there were needy schools all over the country, but where were they hiding. Tom then took two big risks with the last of his money, and hired Belinda Yu as research assistant (who now is the Logistics and Purchasing Director) to help locate underfunded schools in rural regions of Shaanxi Province. Tom’s second risk found the entire TLP organization (3 people) on a crowded bus heading five hours south of Xi’an to Langao County. After a long bus ride, a short jaunt in the back of a pickup, a bumpy boat ride, and a 30-minute walk up a mountain path, they reached Liu Lin Elementary School. With just 60 students, 8 teachers, and almost no funding, TLP finally found the type of school that they so desperately wanted to help.
Tom and the team headed back down the hill and began the search for funds. Within 24 hours, the Liu Lin Elementary School library was fully funded, and within a week they had funds for five more libraries.
The first year of The Library Project’s growth was not easy. They went broke more than once, and took many more risks along the way—some that worked and others that didn’t. They learned the hard way how to donate libraries, locate quality books at the deepest discounts, and engage donors.
Over the next four years, The Library Project accomplished incredible results. By December 31, 2011, they had donated 585 libraries located in 23 provinces throughout China and established an amazing partnership with China Population Welfare Foundation.
Back at headquarters, Tom put together an incredible Management Team that works tirelessly to plan, implement, and assess each and every library donation as well as two amazing Boards of Directors—an Executive Board and an Advisory Board—to oversee the organization's spending, annual budgets, and geographic expansion plans.
Overtime the donated libraries have improved as well as TLPs programs. They now have three separate programs—Reading Corner Program, Reading Room Program, and a Book Donation Program. Not to be outdone, the Librarian Training has even evolved—a cornerstone that makes TLP’s libraries truly sustainable. What was a 15 minute crash course for administrators is now a thorough training course. Because of TLP’s Library Training, 98% of the libraries are used on a weekly basis.
The Library Project’s vision from the beginning was to build a truly international organization that provides libraries so that every child in the world has access to books. To do this they focused on building a rock solid foundation, with a high level of financial transparency for corporate and individual donors—something they are very proud of.
In the first six months of 2013, The Library Project has donated over 1000 libraries in all---that’s really a mile step for our project. This was Tom’s goal from The Library Project’s inception—a goal that many thought was unattainable.
Over the next few years, The Library Project will be expanding into its second and third countries: Vietnam in 2012 and Cambodia in 2013. The Vietnam expansion feels a bit like a homecoming, considering seven of TLP’s first nine libraries were in Vietnam.
“More than anything, everyone at The Library Project is so excited to have the opportunity to work with such incredible partners and volunteers, impacting the children throughout China and Vietnam. Thank you for believing in us at the beginning, and continuing to support us today,” Tom Stader, Founder and Executive Director of The Library Project.
What was once a simple idea has turned into a multi-year journey that has impacted the lives of over 200,000 children.