cassettes of interview recordings from the Allen Thomas Oral History Collection

Patrons got to know chicks Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Dogman, G’Kar, Ryan, The White Queen, and Lil’ Chicken Nugget through this unique library program.

By Cathleen Hill, Jefferson Public Library (Piedmont Regional Library System)

The Jefferson Public Library likes to offer strange and unexpected experiences to our patrons. People who wouldn’t normally come in to check out a book are much more likely to stop in to pet a goat or sing karaoke. The concept of a dusty, overstuffed, shushing library is one we reject entirely. 

We are located in a small community of 14,000 residents about an hour’s drive east of Atlanta. Because of our beloved city school, we see quite a few young families, and our community has seen a recent influx of people moving here from Gwinnett County. 

Anything we can do to help someone in our community feel welcome inside our walls is something worth doing. Some of our most uncommon programs include square dancing, milking cows, toddler-techno dance parties, and most recently, hatching chickens. 

Jefferson has rural areas, but the majority of our patrons live in subdivisions that don’t allow residents to raise chickens. With a rush of people moving from the big city, we had the opportunity to show them something they’d never seen before.

When a homeschool group parent told me about Rent-A-Hatchery, a Gainesville, Georgia, based business that rents out hatchery equipment and eggs for educational programming, we realized that our entire community would enjoy seeing, learning about, and petting baby chicks. 

Rent-A-Hatchery set up the hatchery in our library, and we set up a kids nonfiction book display about chickens around it, so children could easily explore the topic further. For 20 days, we incubated the eggs, and our patrons eagerly awaited the chicks’ arrival. 

Soon, we could hear peeping and pecking from inside the incubator, where our first chick had emerged. Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Dogman, G’Kar, Ryan, The White Queen, and Lil’ Chicken Nugget made their way out of the eggs. Newly hatched chicks stay in the incubator until they are mostly dry, then they can be placed under the heat lamp. 

After we had everyone moved over to the brooder (the box with bedding, food, water, and a heat lamp,) programming began! Both of our storytimes during “chicken week” were chicken themed, and we encouraged patrons to stop by and see the chicks on the way out. We kept a grate over the brooder to keep the chicks from jumping out and little hands from diving in. The chicks loved to peep, so patrons usually went over to see about the noise not long after they walked inside the library. Between the peeps and the posts, quickly the whole community knew that we were the place to flock to for great programming. If we spotted someone looking at the chicks, one of our staff members would ask if they’d like to pet a chick. Usually, the answer was a very excited yes. After the birds aged up a little, we’d even let them hold the birds.

After the chicks hatched, we kept them at the library for one week, and then they could go back to Rent-A-Hatchery or join our family at no extra cost. We have someone on staff who has a farm, so we chose to keep them. Tami, our favorite homesteader, has been keeping us abreast of the chickens as they grow.

Our patrons loved this program. One month after they left us, patrons are still asking about the chicks. On their last day here, we had a birthday party! We purchased cookies from a local bakery and decorated their table with balloons and a banner. Patrons took the opportunity to say goodbye and wish them well. We had little patrons holding birds, 20-somethings hanging out and taking pictures, and seniors sharing stories about childhood farms. I can’t recommend this program enough. 

HOW IT WORKS: The program cost $150 plus the cost of extra feed, $13. Rent-A-Hatchery came to us and set everything up. The kit included everything we needed to start, both supplies and information. We had a table next to the service desk for the incubator and later the chicks. Patrons would come up to see the books and ask us questions about the eggs. The Hatchery also included a book about egg development for us to catalog! 

The only upkeep was topping off the water inside the incubator. We took pictures of the eggs while candling them for our social media. On a sad note, four eggs didn’t make it. Two never hatched, and two chicks started to make their way out, but weren’t strong enough to survive. I made a point to check on the incubator and chicks before patrons entered the building in case we needed to tend to something.

The one complaint with this program is the smell. Chickens can be stinky. The included wood shavings needed to be changed well before the chickens’ return date. I shredded paper for this, but you can also purchase additional wood shavings. After the birds went to live with Tami, Rent-A-Hatchery came back to pick up the hatching equipment.