January 1, 2011

350 Libraries in Four Short Years

Books of all kinds play a critical role in every child’s development. Unfortunately, other than basic textbooks, one finds very few books in China’s most rural elementary schools. The children who live in these areas grow up without access to the educational tools and resources many of us took for granted as children. The Library Project, an American charity based in Xi’an, China, set out to address this scarcity. Since 2006, every day they break this cycle – one book and one child at a time.

As of November 2010, The Library Project has established over 340 libraries in rural elementary schools and orphanages throughout China. They placed more than 250,000 Chinese language children’s books into the hands of eager young readers across the nation. Over 75,000 children now have access to an improved educational infrastructure thanks to the efforts of just four dedicated employees based out of Xi’an. This fantastic development resulted from these dedicated individuals directing the generosity of thousands of donors across the country.

They approach each school using a simple yet effective strategy. Once receiving official approval, a participating school receives a wide range of high quality children’s books, from educational texts on history and science to entertaining books such as comics, fairy tales, and short stories. The Library Project caters to students of all ages, providing reference books that match the needs of each level of education. For example, older students often receive a full set of children’s encyclopedias while younger pupils enjoy a wide selection of pinyin language picture books aimed at children just learning to read. Even going beyond books, The Library Project also provides colorful child-safe tables and chairs, fresh paint, posters and a world globe to accentuate the interior of every library.

In addition to receiving new books and furniture, every participating school takes part in The Library Project’s Librarian Training Program. Since a dedicated library presents both a novelty and a challenge for most rural elementary schools, each school nominates a librarian who learns the logistics of library management from the organization. From day one, this program gets the librarians up to speed on how to run a successful library.

“Libraries put children in the driver’s seat of their education,” says Tom Stader, founder of The Library Project. “Library books are different from textbooks. Kids may be inspired by their teachers during lessons and then explore their interests further in the library. With a library their imagination gets involved.”

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response by China’s rural communities, The Library Project has experienced tremendous growth since its inception. Since 2006 they have donated over 350 libraries in 21 provinces throughout China. And this growth stands as just the beginning, as they intend to open their 500th new library by the end of 2011.

“These remote elementary schools have fantastic administration, dedicated teachers, and a wonderful bunch of students eager to learn. Yet most rural elementary schools lack quality children’s books to spark these young minds with creativity and a love of reading. We have the means to get them the books they need, and so all we need is the funding. We need help to make this happen for the children.” says Tom Stader.

Donor and Volunteer Involvement

“It all began when a couple of friends came together in December 2006 to conduct a book drive. We cooperated with our employer to provide libraries to two Dalian based orphanages, and from there we evolved into an amazing organization providing an improved educational infrastructure that 100,000 children benefit from every day. We can accomplish so much in such a short period of time because of the generous support of our volunteers and donors,” says Tom Stader.

The Library Project provides libraries in rural elementary schools and orphanages through the generous donations of both individuals and companies based in China. Corporate involvement has come from Cummins, Siemens, Pratt & Whitney, Prax Capital, Jaguar Land Rover, GlobalHort, PFW, Grace, Aston English, Beijing Rotary and Sanofi Aventis both financially and with employee involvement as volunteers during library donations. Whereas other larger charities require compensation for their employee’s involvement, The Library Project encourages employees to get involved at no cost.

Hundreds of volunteers are employees of Cummins Inc, a US-based manufacturer of diesel engines and related technology. Cummins is also one of The Library Project’s major donors. The company, which donated 46 libraries last year, encourages its employees across China to help The Library Project, said Julie Liu, chairwoman of Cummins’ Corporate Social Responsibility Committee. “They are very donor-oriented,” Liu said of The Library Project. “They are a small NGO, so we don’t have to handle the bureaucracy involved with some of the larger NGOs.”

“Our volunteers play an important role in introducing the students to their new library. Games are played, songs are sung, and of course books are read. It is a very positive experience for everyone involved; the school administration, teachers, students, and the volunteers,” says Jenny Wang, The Library Project’s Country Director.

Education is change, and The Library Project is creating change in the simplest way possible, by giving children the resources to learn and grow. To succeed, they need support. If you are interested in donating or finding out about other ways of becoming involved, please visit their website at www.library-project.org or contact Tom Stader at tom@library-project.org. Our website contains a wealth of information about each of the libraries we have donated in China to date as well as prospects for future libraries.