Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries Writing

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 Pennsylvania K-8 school called Pittsburgh Manchester, where the librarian – Sheila May-Stein – decided to do something about the empty shelves in her own school (pictured left – that was the entire Fiction section of Manchester’s school library).

Last month, Sheila posted that photo to the Facebook wall of 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 spread like wildfire. 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, leading to thousands of hits.

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 (that’s Sheila, pictured right).

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 schools?

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 handle 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 here, 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 blog post. 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 (there are buttons on the bottom to make this easy for you). 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 ShelvesAll 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:


I’ll be back on Saturday with a new look at KDP Select and why I’ve changed my mind (and am enrolling some titles), but, until then, I would greatly appreciate it if you used the share buttons below to spread this post as widely as possible.

Note: Fill The Shelves UK will be launching soon. I’ll post details when ready.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

60 Replies to “Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries”

    1. Hi Massimo,

      The way Fill The Shelves works is that each school librarian makes a Wish List of the books they need for their kids. Fill The Shelves doesn’t decide which books they need – the librarians choose themselves – from everything available on Amazon.


    1. Sorry, I understand now. You add the affiliate code whenever you are giving the link to anyone (i.e. on Facebook, Twitter, email etc.). For example, this is a normal link to one of your books:

      With the affiliate code added, it looks like this:

      When someone clicks on that link and buys your book, roughly 5% of the purchase price will go to Fill The Shelves. And that comes out of Amazon’s share, not yours.

      You can also do it with the link to your author page, like this:

  1. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Hopefully other schools who need books find out about this and will add their list to Fill the Shelves. This will probably be worth checking periodically to see if new schools come aboard.

    1. It certainly will. They are adding schools all the time, and have several more in the pipeline. They figured that three wishlists at any one time is the best set-up, so it doesn’t get dispersed too much and we can finish one library and move onto the next. Seems like the smartest way to go because as soon as one school is done, they swap another one in.

  2. David,
    Thank you for posting about our “Manchester Miracle”. Just a couple clarifications: the story actually starts in Pittsburgh (not Philadelphia, though this problem exists there, too!) at Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8. Though it’s not terribly important, I teach at the University of Pittsburgh (not Carnegie Mellon University). More significantly, people shared that original photo and our Yinzercation blog piece on Facebook well over *1,000* times within a couple of days!
    Literally thousands and thousands of people around the world have seen our call-to-action and have responded. It’s a truly heart-warming story of what a community can do when it stands together for public education.

    But it also raises significant issues about equity and funding. All those new books are great, but without a full time librarian in each of our schools, we are shortchanging our kids. Most of our schools only have a librarian one day per week. And this is not a sustainable model: volunteers cannot – and should not – be stocking all of our school libraries. And we have to ask big questions about how those shelves became empty in the first place. (See my post, “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Books” for part of the answer.)

    This is not just about choices that have been made by the Pittsburgh Public School District — and this is happening all across the country. This is about years of chronic under-funding and inequitable funding of our public schools at the state level. Here in Pennsylvania, it’s about historic state budget cuts of close to $1 billion that have hit our poorest students the hardest. And this is all in the context of some of the most damaging federal education policies this country has ever seen.

    The good news is that there is a growing grassroots movement of public education advocates fighting for our public schools. I invite your readers to drop by Yinzercation and learn more!

    Kind regards,

    Jessie Ramey, Ph.D.
    ACLS New Faculty Fellow
    Women’s Studies and History
    University of Pittsburgh

    1. Hi Jessie,

      Thank you for dropping by! And thank you for those corrections. I meant to say “Pennsylvania” but my brain wouldn’t comply. I’ve also made those other changes.

      I agree about the issues and sincerely hope that all of this attention raises awareness of what has been a problem for quite some time. I’ve been reading your excellent blog as background to this piece and urge anyone interested in the topic to check it out:


  3. Reblogged this on KD James and commented:
    Most of you following along over here are avid readers and probably have been since childhood. If you have a minute or two, please read this blog post (reblogged from David Gaughran) about an initiative to help needy schools fill the gaps in their underfunded library shelves. And help out if you are able?
    Also, I’ve never “reblogged” anything before now, actually didn’t even know you could do that, so I hope I don’t break something. Or, you know, summon demons.

  4. Well, David, I learned something new today. Didn’t even know reblogging was a thing, but that was fun. Thanks for guest blogging at my site so I don’t have to think up something of my own. 😉

    Seriously, thanks for spreading the word about this initiative. I don’t think there are many things more important than children being able to read widely. Kudos to Amazon for working with them to set up the logistics.

    1. That’s quite alright 🙂

      Just to clarify: Amazon isn’t involved with Fill The Shelves. The organization is just using Amazon’s Wish List system in a clever way (first thought of by the school librarian from Manchester Pittsburgh mentioned at the top of the piece).

      1. Oops, my mistake. Forgot that’s how the Wish List feature works. Maybe I should consider making my own list public… probably need to delete half of it first, though. So maybe not.

  5. Reblogged this on Writes & Bites and commented:
    I’m all about reading and encouraging kids to read. This is a great cause! It’s inspiring to know that others care enough about the lack of funding for books in school libraries to create Fill The Shelves to purchase books. Just like when I bought all the school supplies for a 6th grade boy this year, I made sure to include a book appropriate for his reading level. It’s important to encourage children to read! What would this world be without the influence of a good book?

  6. I just shared this with my friends at “Borders Class of 2011 And Before” , a facebook group for ex-Borders employees with 7,800 members. Borders may have gone bankrupt last year but, we’re still as organized and as passionate as ever. I can’t imagine a more suitable group of people to embrace this cause. We’ve done countless book drives for school libraries in our glorious Borders days, it’s time for one more.

    Thanks for bringing this up to our attention.


  7. I am happy to share this blog post wherever I can. Last year, while we were still living in Houston, we contributed to the restocking of one of the school libraries. We got to see the finished product, and I was moved to tears at how excited the kids were (as well as the staff). We should be appalled that this goes on in our country. Thank you for helping to fight the good fight to increase awareness and to make a difference.

  8. It is sad that it came to this but I applaud people’s generosity.
    Libraries in Scotland are also feeling the pinch but thankfully my local authority has just built several new libraries which form a central part of the communities where they are based. It’s become about so much more than books. They have also placed them inside the new campus style schools that have been built which means the school also has a good library available to it.

    I do take issue with using Amazon as the supplier. In the UK, Amazon paid ZERO tax on profits of £3.3 billion it earned in the UK. That’s where the books are meant to come from, the tax we all pay. Unless you happen to be a global company which uses legal holes to avoid you share of educating young readers who will eventually reward your tax avoiding tactics by buying your products to stock school shelves. Maybe the pupils can look up the meaning of irony in one of those donated dictionaries.

    1. There’s a time and a place for discussion of Amazon’s corporation tax payments (or lack thereof), but I would respectfully submit that this is neither the time nor the place. As far as I am aware, there is nothing illegal about their corporate set-up (which I believe involves running things through Luxembourg). Whether it’s *ethical* or not is a different discussion.

      I will say this though: Amazon are hardly alone in this approach to corporate tax. For example, Twitter, Google, and Facebook pay little or no corporate tax in the UK as they run things via their European HQ in Ireland (where they have sweetheart deals to effectively pay close to zero in tax on their entire European operations). Do you also advocate a boycott of those companies? What are you going to use as a search engine instead? Yahoo? They do the same. Bing? They do the same. I could go on…

  9. Pingback: Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries | The Passive Voice
  10. It’s a good scheme but a shame that libraries have been reduced to such a terrible pass especially in what is perhaps the wealthiest country in the world.

    I hope that this excellent scheme can be extended to other countries in the developing world where the educational system is even more poorly funded. Does anyone know if it operates elsewhere?

    1. I agree, Martin. As for operating elsewhere, Fill The Shelves UK will be opening its doors soon. Obviously, this is a volunteer effort and plans for world domination will likely have to wait. However, there has been some media attention already, and that will likely grow as the program does. If Fill The Shelves served as an inspiration for people in their own countries to start something similar, that would be fantastic.

  11. Hi David, this is a great idea and a worth cause but… when I clicked on that link it just took me to the ordinary Amazon home page. Can you provide more details, or perhaps another link?

  12. At my old elementary school when my kids were there about five years ago I made a trip to the library and saw my beloved Hardy Boys mysteries still there, but suffering greatly as they were in their thirtieth or fortieth years. It is abominable how we do not fund the libraries of our schools so that ourchildren have sufficient materials. Yes I know technology is changing the landscape, but print is still mostly cheaper than the digital alternative, Great post!

  13. Reblogged this on Crap&Giggles and commented:
    As some of you may have gathered from my posts, I like to read. As a kid, I literally did have a little wagon that I trucked to my public libraries Matilda style and take home toppling with books. The idea that other kids aren’t having this same opportunity for wonder is just sad. So, if you can, help out with this cause, fill some shelves in our country’s schools and make education and imagination a priority for our children.

  14. Definitely a scheme that needs to be shared! I highlighted some positives of reading in a previous blog of mine and am so glad that there are other people out there who are working towards inspiring children to read. Reblogging it…now! 🙂

  15. Reblogged this on Journey to Moksha and commented:
    During my childhood I used to want to read as much as I could. However, when living in an under-funded area, reading is not as liberating as it should be. Schools hardly have books on their shelves and the schools with books have uninspiring books that do not capture a child’s imagination, which can ultimately put children off reading. Here is a solution from America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *