The Kitty Cafe

Sometimes the stars align, a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa, and someone posts cute kitty pictures on the web. One such day happened a few months ago, and what it led to was one of the most remarkable events I have ever experienced.

I must confess, of all the social media that I manage for our library, Twitter is the one that seems the dullest to me. There’s just not a lot of interaction, but then again I don’t put a heck of a lot of effort into cultivating it. So, when the Nebraska Humane Society posted yet another crazy-adorable picture of kittens, I impulsively responded. And magic happened.

(To this day the above photo just kills me with teh cutes)

I cannot even put into words how I felt about this interaction (especially because I was the specific person that they could contact to try something out), so here’s a gif:

The Humane Society turned out to be a wonderful partner, and they even have their own PR department that helped with promoting this event. They said that I could focus on the local, and they’d do their more widespread thing. It really sunk in when we received a phone call from someone who’d heard about the event on the radio. I’m not aware of any of our events hitting the airwaves before.

I mean, seriously? More people liked this Humane Society Facebook post than we have page likes. Kinda awesome (well, except for the whole not having that many page likes).

The setup for this event was crazy-easy: a table with coffee/creamers in our foyer, putting away our tables in the meeting room, and edging the room with some chairs. Our Children’s Librarian even offered up the use of her rolling dry erase/felt easel to put outside declaring that the Kitty Cafe was open.

Having managed cafes in bookstores before, I knew that health codes would be an issue with this. I did reach out to our county’s health department, but I never did hear anything back. So I did the thing that seemed wisest: I had the coffee in a completely separate room from where the kittens were. This had the added benefit of allowing at least one (allergic to cats) mom a nice place to hang out while her older kids went in with the kittens.

I had also reached out to a local coffee shop to be a part of this, but did not receive a response. Next time around, I’ll approach the competing coffee shop in town (a chain, but it’s Nebraska-based). That was probably my biggest disappointment – I was excited about helping a local business get some positive PR, and to be met with crickets? *sad face*

During the event, I was the only library staff member at the building since the Main Library was closed (it’s a long story). So, except for the first hour when the kittens were acclimating to the new space, I didn’t have time to enjoy the kitties ::trombone wah wah:: BUT, I already have an amazing 13 year old cat, so playing with the kittens would have been a bit selfish on my part. I spent my time welcoming people (many whom I did not recognize), and shooting videos.

Our meeting room is where the Friends of the Gretna Library house their booksale, and it’s worth mentioning that they made $42 during this event!

Oh, and obviously this event struck a chord: a family in Lincoln (40-ish miles away) drove up having seen the Humane Society’s Facebook post that morning. And there were quite a few comments on that thread about “I want this to happen in my city!” How cool is that?!

Ultimately, all four kittens found forever homes which still gets me all sorts of choked-up. Every person (except one), thanked me and the Humane Society ladies for such a neat event. I must say, I’ve never had such a positive warm-fuzzy response to any of our events before. And people were asking if/when we’d do it again!

There definitely was a huge learning curve during the event, and I’ll share those things (including why the one person was unhappy), plus a few tips for you if you decide to try an event like this – all of this after this video that I made of the event:

Okay, so here are some things I feel that I should point out about this event in case you’re interested in doing this at your library:

  • Look for areas where kittens might hide and try to block most of them. Our kittens would get overwhelmed and hide behind a huge filing cabinet (in a space that I thought that they wouldn’t be able to fit into). Then kids would bother them even more by trying to lure them out.So it’s good for them to have places to hide for a break, but hopefully it’s in an area where extraction by an adult can happen without fear of bodily harm (it took four of us after the event was over to get one of the kittens out of her hiding spot).
  • We gave the kittens an hour to acclimate to the space, and then we opened the doors. Next time we’re considering having the first hour of the cafe be for adults-only. This is because there was such a rush of enthusiastic families, that the kittens were almost immediately worn out from the kids’ energy. The adults who would sit patiently sort of got the short end of the stick. Having an early adults-only time might also help the kittens acclimate further while getting used to strangers being around them.
  • Speaking of kids: I think that I should put together a short script (maybe with the help of the Humane Society) to help educate them on how to treat the kittens such as “no chasing” and “you must be seated to hold a kitten.” Things like that. Many parents helped guide their children, but there were plenty of others who didn’t seem concerned that their children were being too rough on the kittens.
  • Along those lines we did have one upset woman. It was tough to understand why she was upset, but from what I could gather after I asked several open ended questions was that she had expected to be able and purchase the kittens like a cup of coffee, and was upset that with 20 minutes left to go, all of the kittens were worn out, hiding, or already claimed. It seemed like she did not understand that the Humane Society adopts and does not sell animals (or force them to amuse people).So with that in mind, on our flyer I might make it clear that you can claim a kitten at the library, and then go to the Humane Society later that day to fill out the adoption papers and pay the fee. Here’s what our flyer looked like:
  • We may also use a baby gate in the doorway instead of opening/closing the door. I’m not sure how convenient that will be for letting people in and out, but it’s something to consider. It may also help keep the number of people down in the room if they can easily look in and see what’s happening.
  • One of the awesome Humane Society ladies (::waves hi to Sarah::) is also considering bringing slightly older kittens. At that point, however, we would need to be extra careful about the number of people allowed in the room at a time. We would also possibly need waivers for those going in to sign stating that they won’t hold us liable if a kitten or cat bites and/or claws them.
  • Finally, if you’ve been wondering about library staff members’ allergies: it wasn’t a problem (one of the other reasons having a separate room is so great). Our Director is terribly allergic to cats, and since I cleaned/vacuumed/practically hosed down the room right after the program, she didn’t even have a sniffle come Monday morning.

And I think that about covers it! As always, don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments or by email if you have any questions. I’d love to see this awesome life-changing event (for both people and cats) sweep the nation’s libraries and Humane Societies!

6 thoughts on “The Kitty Cafe

    • Every kitten that they brought was adopted :) They can’t do the adoptions at the event, but people can basically “call dibs” on them and head to the Humane Society later that day to go through the adoption process.

      And DO IT – I’ve been in libraryland and bookstore land for almost two decades and I’ve never had a more wonderful event. People RAVED about it and it was just awesome :D

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