Book Angels Alight in Rochester

Submitted by Claudia Depkin.

Three years ago the Rochester Public Library focused on the problem of literacy in the Rochester City School District. Only 5% of students were considered “proficient” based on the Grades 3-8 ELA Assessments. The graduation rate was 49% and 90% of students come from economically disadvantaged households. 

Literacy Coordinator Shelley Matthews met this challenge head-on with a campaign to make the city of Rochester more literate by getting books into children’s hands. The Book Angel Project started with the donation of over a million books a year by GoodWill. So Shelley set out into the community, meeting with churches, laundromats, barbershops, beauty salons, doctors, Department of Social Services, community groups like Rotary and the Lions Club, and anywhere else families congregate, with the aim of finding homes for those books. 

Each month, 67,000 books are donated via 195 partner agencies. These books are free for families and children to take, so they can build their own home collections. Getting books into the hands of children is an important building block for improving literacy and is one of Rochester Public Library’s ways of contributing to the sustainability and well-being of its community.

Plans for expansion of the Project include reaching out to families in Section 8 housing areas. The community rooms in those developments will be made over into library space and will be the site of twice-weekly story hour sessions.

The Book Angel Project was coined by a three year old who saw Matthews frequently at WIC. The child used to hug Shelley’s leg and call her “my books angel!”  For more information about the Book Angel Project, contact Shelley Matthews at




The Sustainability Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights community-driven, environmentally sound, and economically responsible programs and projects in libraries and other organizations. You can find more projects in the Sustainability Spotlight Archive or visit NYLA's Sustainability Initiative to learn more about how you can get started with sustainability in your library.