Chris Noel Bradshaw, 1975
B.A., Denison University
Founder and President
African Library Project
Portola Valley, Calif.
Citation awarded June, 2010
Chris Noel Bradshaw spent her junior year at Fourah Bay College, part of the University of Sierra Leone, studying African religion, law, and literature. She also traveled alone through western and central Africa, acquainting herself with African traditions and seeing firsthand the conditions the African people endured, and found herself deeply affected and frustrated by the pervasive poverty.
Fast-forward to 2004, when Chris took her family to Lesotho on a vacation that changed her life. On a pony trekking trip, she watched her son, then 14, devouring a book while his pony plodded along, and asked their guide if there were any libraries in the country. When he said there might be one in the capital, Chris’s life suddenly had a new direction. “At 21, I didn’t know what I could to do help,” she says. “At 54, I had the resources to be able to do something.”
That “something” is the African Library Project. Initially, Chris partnered with a Peace Corps volunteer, who was a retired librarian, and local villagers to start five libraries in the same valley she had trod on horseback. Chris used local book drives in schools and churches in and around her community in California to provide the books. The two women not only created four libraries but instituted a “donkey library” that served as a bookmobile.
In 2005, the African Library Project went online, with www.AfricanLibraryProject.org. The book drives expanded across the United States as well as to Canada and Puerto Rico. A board of directors was formed to help maximize the Project’s potential. In 2006, Chris was recognized by her community with the Bay Area Jefferson Award for Public Service.
Now with more than 500 libraries in eight African countries, Chris continues to work to change the face and the potential of Africa. In the U.S., tens of thousands of children have come to understand that their own old books can be transformed from excess resources to valued treasures. For the future, Chris envisions thousands of libraries in sub-Saharan Africa that have native-language sections, culture corners, and children’s books about HIV/AIDS. As she puts it, “education is the greatest tool for self-improvement and upward mobility, and literacy is the #1 tool out of poverty.”