When Thomas Stader, director of The Library Project, pulls up to a
rural school with a truckload of brand new books, tables and
chairs, he and his volunteers don't bother unloading them. The
children swarm the caravan and do it for them.
"They're building their own libraries," says Stader. "We call
(our arrival) "'The Madness'," he adds, showing pictures and video
of excited children carrying bookshelves and smiling into the
As China consolidates its rural schools to improve the quality
of education in the countryside, Stader has positioned his charity
to lend a hand - and "not to get in the way".
The Library Project, just 18 months old, has helped in the
development of 13 libraries in Shaanxi Province and throughout
China. By the end of January, Stader hopes to install 25 more
libraries, thanks to a recent surge in funding.
Part of not getting in the way involves deferring credit to
local partners, says Stader, 34.
"I make it a point to hide The Library Project as much as
possible," said the former graphic designer from San Francisco.
"When we provide a library in Shaanxi Province we are not providing
'The Library Project libraries', we're providing Xi'an Charity
Association libraries. This idea of giving face is very natural: We
could never do as much as we do without the help of our partners
Stader left his design job five years ago because, as he put it,
he "wanted something different". But after volunteering at five
elementary schools in Thailand, he quickly realized that teaching
wasn't for him. Stader then moved to Cambodia, where he began
working with more than 40 charities to develop their marketing
materials. Stader later established The Library Project in Xi'an,
Stader's usually reading about five books at any given time,
but, for a man who loves to read, Stader has not always loved
libraries - at least, not ones that are silent, cold and
"When I was a child, I hated the library I could actually hear
myself thinking, and that is a scary thing for a young child," he
says. "The Library Project creates my personal dream library:
Bright, fun, exciting spaces so that children can be children."
Children in Shaanxi
Province enjoying their new books. (file photo from China
A typical library, which includes tables, chairs, shelves and
quality color children's books, costs about $1,000. Stader is
careful to document where every one of those dollars goes on the
charity's Website, Library-Project.org. This transparency, along
with the charity's focus, has impressed donors.
"We wanted something lean that provided the most direct funding
to its project with little administrative cost," said Paul
Mauerman, who recently invited Stader to present his charity to a
group of University of Maryland business school alumni in Shanghai.
"Thomas Stader had a clear, simple vision and was very
compassionate about The Library Project. Our feedback from those in
attendance confirmed we made the right decision."
During a trip to a HIV clinic in Ho Chi Min City, Stader noticed
a boy who was 80 percent blind sitting in the corner by himself.
Not sure if he could read, Stader brought him a big book about
motorcycles. "He had the book pressed against his face, reading for
three hours straight," Stader recalls.
Such stories, sad as though they might be, only give Stader more
motivation to carry out The Library Project's positive vision.
"When we see a library with no books, we see opportunity," he
says. "When we walk into a dusty gray library with broken chairs,
we see a bight new library with fun furniture."
(China Daily December 21, 2007)