NEA Big Read: Lab Girl

In spring of 2021, Chillicothe Public Library will host our second NEA Big Read: a one-book-one-community project featuring discussions and programs centered on the memoir Lab Girl, by geobiologist Hope Jahren.

NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) designed to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Chillicothe Public Library is one of 78 not-for-profit organizations to receive a grant to host an NEA Big Read project between September 2019 and June 2020. The NEA presents NEA Big Read in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Programs & Events

Click here for a full listing of discussions and programs with registration links. All events are free, open to the public, and will take place virtually via Zoom, unless otherwise noted. During in-person outdoor programs, masks must be worn over the nose and mouth when unable to maintain a 6’ distance from others. If you have interpretation needs for an event (ex., American Sign Language), please call 309-274-2719 at least two weeks in advance, and we’ll do our best to provide accommodations.

Plant a Tree!

When you plant a tree, you plant not only a beautiful source of future shade, food, clean air, and water, but also a world for the many species that will build their lives in, around, above, and below that tree. Reserve a tree by May 1 and pick it up during our community-wide Tree-Planting Extravaganza on May 1! If you’d like to reserve more than one tree for your site, please call Catherine at 309-274-2719. Otherwise, click the button below.

Herbarium: A Library for Plants

March 8 – May 1
Visit the library to view this exhibit curated by Forest Park Nature Center, which holds a collection of thousands of preserved plant specimens, many collected in the late 1800s through the early 1900s by Virginius Chase, a botanist from Peoria Heights, IL. Herbariums can be critical to understanding an area’s ecology, past and present, in a time of rapid change and habitat destruction. QR codes posted throughout the exhibit link to videos for a virtual docent tour of the exhibit. Can’t make it to the library? Browse the exhibit videos here.

Virtual Film Fest

Immerse yourself in forests around the world and brush up on your scientific knowledge. Click here for a list of films and how to access them.


Click here for book suggestions for all ages that share similar themes with Lab Girl.

Conservation Volunteer Opportunities

Get your hands dirty at these volunteer workdays in the Chillicothe area! Click here for information.

STEM Story Times

Kids can enjoy picture books about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, selected and read by women working in these fields. Find the videos on our YouTube channel.

STEM Take-and-Makes

Bring home a bit of science fun! Click here to find out more about the activity kits.

Contributors of all ages are invited to submit their work by March 31 at or bring a hard copy to the library and fill out an entry form at the front desk. In 250 words or less, write a piece that is rooted in your experience or observation of the natural world. It can be poetry, prose, or something in between. One entry per person, please. Entries will be collected and published by the library as an e-book, and selections will be presented at NEA Big Read programs.

We received two submissions — not enough to create an e-book, but we want to share these writers’ work with you here. Click the buttons below to read these contributions:

Making Room: Eliminating the Barriers to Writing Your Story
Workshop series: March 2, 9, 16, 23 @ 11:00 am – noon
Register by 3pm on Feb. 26 at
It’s time to make room—for you, for your words, for your journey. Whether you’re hung up on the technicalities of writing or burdened with never having enough time to craft your story, let’s remove the barriers together. Workshop open to adults; no writing experience needed. Registration and more information

Book cover of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

About the book:

This is a nature lover’s story about digging in dirt and discovering new things about old growth. It’s a scientist’s story about running experiments, wondering, asking for funds, and fending off doubt. It’s a Midwesterner’s story of moving to new places and noticing the differences. It’s a girl’s story about becoming what she wants to be. And it’s a woman’s story about fighting stereotypes, sacrificing, feeling vulnerable, trusting in friendship, getting sick, getting help, finding love, and writing it all down. Learn more

Hope Jahren

About the author:

Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist who has been pursuing independent research in paleobiology since 1996, when she completed her PhD at University of California Berkeley and began teaching and researching first at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright Awards and is one of four scientists, and the only woman, to have been awarded both of the Young Investigator Medals given within the Earth Sciences. She was a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu from 2008 to 2016, where she built the Isotope Geobiology Laboratories, with support from National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. She currently holds the J. Tuzo Wilson professorship at the University of Oslo, Norway. Learn more

Don’t miss Dr. Jahren’s live virtual keynote address on April 17! RSVP at

Many thanks to our partner organizations!

Our friends at Morton Public Library are reading Lab Girl, too! Their NEA Big Read runs April-May. See what programs and events they’re offering at