11/09/2012 09:07 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Fill the Shelves Campaign Raises Money, Buys Books For School Libraries

By David Gaughran for

Chronic under-funding of school libraries has led to the tragic spectacle of empty shelves, leaving children with nothing to read; but a new initiative called Fill The Shelves hopes to change all that.

This story starts in a Philadelphia Pittsburgh K-8 school called Pittsburgh Manchester, where the librarian - Sheila May-Stein - decided to do something about the empty shelves in her own school.

Last month, Sheila posted that photo to the Facebook wall of Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh professor Jessie Ramey, who then wrote about the problem on her education blog Yinzercation, along with ways that people could help - including ordering books from an Amazon Wish List.

Then things went a little viral. That Facebook photo was shared 118 times. They got coverage from their local newspaper. CBS Pittsburgh came out and did a story. Neil Gaiman, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Newsroom's Alison Pill got involved, tweeting and blogging about Manchester's empty shelves.

And books started turning up on Sheila's doorstep - from all over the world.

In a matter of days, over 800 books had been donated to Manchester's kids. The internet is a wonderful thing and can make a real difference to people's lives - especially when it helps to drive good causes like this one.

However, Manchester is only one school and the issue of underfunded school libraries is widespread. The success of Sheila's campaign got a group of authors thinking: what if we set up a website that could help lots more

Fill The Shelves is a simple, but brilliant, idea. The website lists a number of schools that are in the same situation that Manchester faced - years of under-funding, empty shelves and no books for kids to read.

You can read all about the schools that need your help, see pictures of those bare shelves, and, most importantly, help to fill them.

Each school librarian has provided an Amazon Wish List detailing the particular books that their kids need, and readers can choose which books they would like to purchase on behalf of the school. Amazon handles the transactions, and the books get delivered straight to the school librarian.

In just two weeks, Fill The Shelves has restocked the libraries of three under-funded schools: Southside Elementary School in Jonesboro, Louisiana; Jorge Mas Canosa School in Miami-Dade County, Florida; and Downsville Charter School in Downsville, Louisiana.

Here's what Southside Elementary School had to say:

Southside Elementary School was bombarded with boxes and boxes of fabulous books today. The poor UPS guy didn't know what to think as he hauled them in on the dolly.

Our students were very excited and could not contain themselves as I opened boxes and showed them each book. The 'oohs and aahs' were heard all around as excitement filled the air. One student wanted to know if it was my birthday. LOL!

I then explained how wonderful people across the nation had so much faith in them they wanted to make sure they had plenty of great books to read! I read the notes that came from the gifters and with eyes wide, the students would repeat the state the sender was from in awe.

They couldn't believe this many people cared enough to bless them with so many books and they can't wait until the books are logged, labeled and ready to read! Thank you to everyone who has made this happen for my students and
our school.

That's over $5,000 of books sent via Amazon Wish Lists in a matter of days. But so many more schools need our help. Right now, there are three more schools on Fill The Shelves that desperately need books for their kids.

How can you help?

1. Buy books.

On the Fill The Shelves website, there are three schools with empty shelves that need filling. You can read all about the respective schools, and choose the books you would like to purchase from their Amazon Wish Lists. The books you purchase will be automatically delivered straight to the respective school librarians.

2. Share this story.

Just as important as buying books is spreading the word. We need to get this message out to as many people as possible. Share this post on Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of your social networks. Please also share news of this initiative with any school librarians you know that might be in need of help. While Fill The Shelves have several schools in the pipeline, there are plenty more out there that need assistance. Contact details are on the website, or you can email contactfilltheshelves [AT]

3. Use the affiliate code for Fill The Shelves.

All book links on the Fill The Shelves website have an Amazon affiliate code attached. 100% of this money is plowed back into buying books for schools from their Wish Lists. If you are buying anything on Amazon, clicking through on this link first will attach the affiliate code - meaning roughly 5% of the cost of anything you purchase will go towards buying books for kids.

If you are an author, you can also add the affiliate code to your own book links. I'm taking part in a group promotion this weekend, and we will be adding the Fill The Shelves affiliate code to our links. If you want to do the same, simply add this to the end of your link: ?tag=filltheshelves-20

Note: Fill The Shelves UK will be launching soon.

David Gaughran is an Irish author, living in London, who has released several self-published titles and blogs more regularly at Let’s Get Digital.


Correction: the article originally stated that Pittsburgh Manchester was in Philadelphia, and that Jessie Ramey was a professor at Carnegie Mellon. These errors have now been corrected.