Current Issue / DU Alumni / People

Library science grad Janet Lee helps spread the word about Ethiopia Reads

Ethiopia Reads has six mobile libraries -- book carts pulled by donkeys -- like this one. Photo courtesy of Janet Lee

For years, Janet Lee (MA library science ’78) had two separate interests: libraries (her profession) and Ethiopia (her Peace Corps past).

When she discovered how to combine her expertise in library science and her passion for Ethiopia, Lee found her ultimate role as a powerful advocate for Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit that sets up libraries and literacy programs.

In summer 2010 Lee spent two months in the small Ethiopian town of Mekele helping to set up the Segenat Children and Youth Library, which opened in August.

Lee took her first library job at age 14. “Working at the library became a part of me,” says Lee, who is a technical services librarian at Regis University in Denver. “I’ve been working for libraries ever since.”

Her first connection with Ethiopia came in 1974, when she signed up as a Peace Corps volunteer. Upon her return, Lee went back to library work, this time in the University of Denver’s Penrose Library, while she earned her master’s in library science.

But her thoughts still wandered to the African country. “Not a single day would go by that I did not think about Ethiopia.”

In 2006, Lee learned about Ethiopia Reads, which has its U.S. headquarters in Denver.

“‘This is too much,’ I kept thinking. ‘How can this possibly be?’ That I would be a librarian and Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and all along this organization was in my own backyard?” Lee says. “It was like my destiny was calling my name.”

Founded in 2003 by Ethiopian native Yohannes Gebregeorgis, Ethiopia Reads builds free libraries for children, creates reading materials in English and local languages, and trains teachers, librarians and caregivers to nurture a love of reading.

Lee became friends with Gebregeorgis and then became one of the organization’s greatest advocates. Apart from speaking, writing letters and fundraising, Lee used her networking skills to introduce Gebregeorgis to the American Library Association, the Colorado Association of Libraries and many other civic and educational groups for speaking engagements and fundraising activities.

“Janet is the patron saint of Ethiopia Reads who has so passionately supported and advocated our work,” Gebregeorgis says. “I’m amazed at all the things she has done. Her love for Ethiopia and our children is boundless.”

Ethiopia Reads now has six mobile libraries (book carts pulled by donkeys), two public libraries and 43 school libraries.

“Her belief that literacy, reading and libraries are a means to effect social change in Ethiopia is what drives and motivates her to do everything in her power and reach,” Gebregeorgis says.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *