Bright Red Bookshelf

Important Program Update:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to temporarily close our Bright Red Bookshelves. In order to ensure the safety of our community, we are not able to place books out for families to choose from, as shared surfaces could lead to virus transmission. But we have a solution! Bright Red Bookshelf To-Go!

A partnership project of:
  • Family Reading Partnership
  • Local human service agencies
  • Local businesses
  • Duthie Painting

Start your own Bookshelf program!
Download the Bright Red Bookshelf Manual.

View Tompkins County book donation sites and bookshelf sites.


The Bright Red Bookshelf program recirculates gently used children's books back into the community where they are made available free for families to own. Books are collected in red crates at community locations and through book drives organized by service groups, congregations, campus organizations, and schools. These books are sorted, cleaned, and affixed with a label, then set out on bright red bookshelves at sites where low-income families will have easy access to them.

  • Increase book ownership by families, particularly in low-income homes
  • Encourage parent-child interactions with books
  • Involve community members in this literacy effort through book donations
  • Enhance the services of organizations serving as bookshelf hosts by providing books to the families they already serve
  • Keep books circulating in the community so that "no children's book is ever lonely"

Book ownership is important in fostering an interest in reading and a love for books. If parents are to read to their children, they need the books to do so. Children feel pride in owning their own books. They develop confidence in reading and acquire mastery when books are easily within reach and can be read again and again. We believe that each book a child owns is an "appetizer" to library use.

Project Background

The Bright Red Bookshelf concept emerged in the fall of 1997 as the Family Reading Partnership was being formed. The idea of collecting gently used books to place on a bookshelf to take for free evolved from discussions of how to connect families with books. It was met with enthusiastic support, especially from founding member Jim Crawford who exclaimed, "Yes, and there has to be more than one shelf, and they have to be red!"

Jim made a prototype shelf, board member Ed Palmer selected the perfect color red, and Ed's daughter created the logo. Children's author and carpenter Ed Ormondroyd and volunteer Michael Miles came on board to make additional shelves, and we were off! In the spring of 1998 the first shelf was inaugurated at the Ithaca Police Satellite Station, and soon five more were set up at other locations. A successful collection drive among local congregations, the first Faith in Books Weekend in fall 1998, brought in 1,400 books for the shelves. In the year 2002, congregations, groups such as youth hockey and girl scouts, and individuals donated 7,600 gently used books at bright red crates throughout the community. That year more than 5,000 books were added to home libraries from bright red bookshelves. Currently more than 10,000 gently used children's books are recirculated into the community each year, made available on over 50 Bright Red Bookshelves in our county.

Replication Acknowledgement Request

If replicating the Bright Red Bookshelf, please acknowledge FRP in any written information or publicity: The Bright Red Bookshelf was created by the Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, NY in 1997

View Tompkins County book donation sites and bookshelf sites.