Use of the dedicated free-standing building was given lease free to Yohannes Gebregeorgis, Tigray Libraries and Literacy Project, by the City of Mekelle in 2009 under the leadership of Ato Feseha Zerihun. Yohannes has received continuous support from the current Mayor, Ato Negusse Gebre, who was instrumental in the original transfer of the building. The Segenat was officially dedicated and opened to the public on August 22, 2010. Since that date hundreds of children have registered to use the library and these students have made thousands of daily visits.
Significant features of the library include The Dr. Thomas Hooyman Youth Reading Center, IT/Media lab, the reading nook, an active reference desk, an online public access catalog, significant programming and an arboretum. The building itself is beautifully designed and well suited for a library. A beautiful central atrium and large exterior windows allow a substantial amount of natural lighting for student reading needs.
The Dr. Thomas Hooyman Youth Reading Center provides a quiet study area conducive to needs for older, more serious students. It was funded through the generosity of Barbara Hooyman Baker, the sister of Dr. Thomas Hooyman. Dr. Hooyman was a professor of medical ethics at Regis University in Denver, CO and made his acquaintance with Yohannes Gebregeorgis during a Regis University Radio interview in 2008.
The IT/Media lab was largely supported through a U.S. Peace Corps Partnership grant funded by three current U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Mekelle: Shelley McCreery, Nicholas Strnad, and Danielle Hoekwater. The lab has six networked computers loaded with up-to-date computer programs and limited internet access. A free, three week Introduction to Computers class is being offered to eager students of all ages.
Janet’s Reading Nook provides tiered seating for children under six years old. It is semi-enclosed allowing for some privacy and noise abatement. It is ideal for story hours, arts and crafts, and play activities. It was funded by Janet Lee, Librarian at Regis University in Denver, CO. Two quilt wall hangings designed by Sharon Gormas (Winchester, VA) depict Ato Yohannes’ two children’s books and hang across from the nook. Also included in the nook are two whimsical portable puppet stages that were made by Katrina Gekowskie (Winchester, VA) and Jennifer Sutter, Youth Services Librarian from the Handley Regional Library (Winchester, VA),
The fully functional online public access catalog utilizes KOHA open source software. The catalog is searchable by keyword, author, title and other major search criteria. A computer terminal has been placed at the reference desk for student use. Internet access is available on a limited basis from this computer. A library assistant is available to answer questions at all hours that the Segenat library is open. Great appreciation is given to Kieran Hixon, Fremont County Library (CO); Jesse, Fremont County Library (CO); Amy Bruno, Dacono Public Library (CO); and John Twigg, Regis University (CO) for their support in configuring software and providing hardware.
A variety of popular programs are also offered to the students including: Science Club, Book Club, Art Club, Homework Club and an ongoing Study Skills workshop taught by a University of Mekelle professor. Dinaw Mengestu, author of “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears” and Maaza Mengiste, author of “Beneath the Lion’s Gaze” have generously donated multiple copies of their books for the Book Club. Author Janice VanCleave, a noted children’s science educator has contributed copies of her work and has provided needed advice for the Science Club.
Yohannes and the TLLDP have provided extensive training to library assistants in the region for two consecutive years. Among the volunteer trainers/librarians were: Janet Lee, Regis University (CO); Rachel Scott, Seattle Public Library (WA); Athena Michael, John Wiley & Sons Publishers (VA); Dr. Maria Briones, Sharjah Higher College of Technology, Dubai, UAE; Erin Meyer, University of Denver (CO); and Tewolde Tesfay, Mekelle University (Ethiopia).
The Segenat Children and Youth Library is not the full extent of the city’s generosity to Yohannes and the TLLDP.Mayor Fesheha offered three other smaller buildings in various sub cities of Mekelle to be used for libraries. The Mayor made one simple request: The name of the building would be the Segenat Children and Youth Library. The Segenat, the “children” served as messengers between the villages in the struggle for self determination and democracy.
Throughout his career, Yohannes has directed the opening of over 45 school library partnerships across Ethiopia, three public children’s libraries, seven Donkey Mobile Libraries and a number of portable libraries. His recent expansion into Tigray has included the development of the Debri, Fre Sew-at, and Myliham school libraries; a Donkey Mobile Library at Sefra Jeganu; and the flagship Segenat Children and Youth Library in the city of Mekelle. Yohannes has achieved international fame for these endeavors including the 2008 Top 10 CNN Hero award, Presidential Citation for International Innovation by the American Library Association in 2008, delivered the President’s Keynote Address at the American Library Association Mid-Winter conference in Boston in January 2010, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for his achievements by Regis University in Denver, Colorado in May 2010.
In June 2011, Yohannes received Honorary Membership into the American Library Association, the highest award that ALA bestows on an individual. The award was presented at the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans.
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