Rita Pankhurst was born in Romania in 1927 and emigrated to England with her family in 1938. She completed her secondary education in Cambridge and, graduated from Oxford University in 1948, majoring in Modern Languages (French and Russian). After further studies in Paris, she received a diploma in Russian from the École Nationale des Langues Orientales Vivantes in 1951. She then translated into English three novels: One from Romanian, another from German and a third from French, all of which were published in London. She then joined the Press Library of the Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), and, later, also worked with the Japanese Foreign Correspondents of Asahi Shimbun in London.
Rita came to Ethiopia in 1956, qualifying as a Chartered Librarian (A.L.A), through the British Library Association correspondence courses. Rita and Richard got married in Addis Ababa in1957, had two children, Alula in 1962, and Helen in 1964, and to date, have four grandchildren. After working for six years in the Public Division of the National Library of Ethiopia Rita joined, and later headed, the University College of Addis Ababa Library. After its merger with other institutions to form the Haile Sellassie I University, Rita was appointed the first University Librarian, (1964) and organized the main University Library in a new purpose-built John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. During her administration, she brought about changes in Library Organization, Provision of Services, Internal and External Communication and Library Collection Development.
Rita was elected Convener of the Standing Conference of African University Librarians 1968-74 and Chair of its Eastern Area 1971-4. In addition, she read papers published in Ethiopian international conference proceedings and published journal articles on different Ethiopian Issues. Most of her work can be found in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies or the Kennedy Library of Haile Selassie I, later Addis Ababa University.
Rita left the University in 1974 and worked for two years for the UN Economic Commission for Africa as a documentalist, before moving back to London where she was appointed Head of Library Services at the City of London Polytechnic – a position she held for ten years. In 1986/7 she was elected Chair or the Council of Polytechnic Librarians (Great Britain). During this time, she took into the Polytechnic the Fawcett Library on Women, the library and archives of the Fawcett Society, the main British constitutional suffrage movement.
Since returning to Ethiopia in 1987 Rita has worked as a consultant first for the U.N. Pan African Development Information System on information for women, visiting African countries to obtain profiles of information provision and needs on women and development. Among other consultancies was a survey of higher education libraries in Ethiopia for the World Bank. She later worked as an editor of University theses in anthropology and other research publications, and as English editor for the Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review. She was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Library Association (FLA) in 1993.
She has been closely involved in the work of the Friends of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (SOFIES) and for many years was Chair of the Committee in charge of the Institute’s lecture series. Since 1991 she has also been active on the Ethiopian National Committee of the United World Colleges, which has selected over a hundred eleventh grade Ethiopian students for scholarships in fourteen UWCs in different parts of the world.
The Board of Directors of Bikila Award