A shelf full of books does not create a reading culture by itself. Without the proper training, library managers and teachers often don’t have the comprehension and tools to make their schools successful. Within the Ethiopian education system, library managers show up in brand new libraries not having grown up with books and libraries, with little training or support. Having never had this role modeled for them, they are often confused about what their role should be and feel very alone and unappreciated.

Our goal is to nurture library managers with professional development seminars that promote sustainability. We want to help them become empowered to create a library that comes to life and makes an impact. For example, a simple lending system to get books in the hands of students or creating a calm, welcoming environment can dramatically improve literacy rates.

Ethiopia Reads’ professional development seminars arm library managers with the tools to be successful in a challenging environment. Through partnerships with major institutions like the Ministry of Education, the UN Economics Affairs Council Library and library managers from some of the most prestigious international schools in Addis Ababa, we are able to provide unmatched skills-training and education. And, because we continue to monitor and assess our libraries, we fine-tune our training sessions as specific needs become apparent.

Among other principles of good literacy practice, our training sessions focus on:

  • Individualized student engagement through book clubs.
  • Developing critical thinking and comprehension skills while reading fiction aloud to kids.
  • Showing library managers how students can begin to see themselves as authors and storytellers by making their own small books using affordable materials.
  • Understanding the fundamental components of literacy, and how to translate them into teaching practice.
  • Using music with patterned lyrics to teach English.
  • Exposing library managers to nonfiction conventions (bold print, captions, headings, charts and diagrams for example) that assist readers in deepening their understanding of a particular topic.
  • Introducing the concept of a welcoming lending system vs. a highly guarded information archive; including book care routines for students and staff.
  • Colleague mentoring and hands-on practice.
  • Library design and function as a means of creating a welcoming and usable space with limited resources.
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For five years, Ethiopia Reads operated the ‘Old Sarum’ Kindergarten in the Mercato District of Addis Ababa, so named in honor of the couple from Salisbury, England, whose wedding donations paid for the founding of the school. The school served hundreds of children in its time with model early childhood education.
Facing an annual battle with local officials and landlords who demand exorbrant rent increases, Ethiopia Reads decided to change the program model for serving this population of children who live in a densely populated and low-resource urban area.

In Ethiopia, it pays to be nimble in program design. Strategies must be mixed, must be flexible and fluid. Conditions change. We are now conducting focus groups among parents, educators, and officials in three sub-cities in Addis Ababa, including the Mercato District, about best ways to serve children with foundational literacy. This year we will be submitting project proposals to those three sub-cities.

By designing mobile programs based in strong existing libraries, we help both the base library and the whole sub-city, supporting library and broader literacy projects with training, materials, staff support and mentoring. We advocate district-wide for strong reading instruction and strong libraries. In this way, we have the potential to impact thousands of early grades readers within budgets comparable to one’s school’s operations budget, particularly in this spiraling costs in Addis Ababa.

The BCL Project
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The BCL Project

Book-Centered Learning (The BCL Project) recognizes that books have the power to unlock each student’s potential. To accomplish this goal, this project acknowledges that it is not enough to provide the physical resources and books for a library- but imperative to expertly train those who help students utilize the resources. When students interact with a knowledgeable and skilled librarian their opportunity to learn is much greater.

The model of Book Centered Learning begins with assessment. This is done through the use of an assessment tool, called a rubric, that states the desired outcomes regarding how a good library functions and identifying the qualities of a highly skilled librarian. This assessment rubric was developed with the expertise of the Ethiopia Reads Staff supported by library and literacy specialists in the United States. Feedback was also received from successful librarians working in Ethiopia to assure that this assessment tool is meaningful and relevant to those who would benefit from it. Initially this project was piloted in 22 schools throughout all regions of Ethiopia.

Based on the initial assessment results, three main goals were established:

1) Library Environment and Access- The library is open, well organized and equipped with high quality resources and support.

2) Read Aloud Protocol- The librarian uses books to actively engage students in an enjoyable and informative reading experience- asking higher level questions that teach students how to actively engage in texts for deeper learning.

3) Professional Development/ Advocacy for and extension of the Library- The librarian recognizes the value of continued professional development and seeks innovative and exciting ways to develop a culture of literacy for students, families and community.

Based on these three goals, there have been 23 individual training modules/ presentations developed, supported by a comprehensive training manual. This training focuses on literacy skills and strategies that students can use in their study of the general curriculum- such as ways to learn new vocabulary words, ways to comprehend what they read, and strategies for locating resources in the library to assist them in their own research and study.

The model of curriculum delivery is a cascade model where literacy professionals engage in training Ethiopia Reads staff in Addis Ababa, who then deliver the training in the individual schools/ libraries while assessing program effectiveness and providing additional needed support. The training modules are delivered at various levels due to differing experience levels of the librarians as well as differences in the individual library collections. After implementation, the librarians are observed and re-assessed to celebrate improvement, determine additional training that is needed, and assure that the program is effective and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders.


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