TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program at your library
My library is this gorgeous 80+ year old building that’s been expanded thoughtfully so that the original building–a one-room stone space with tall windows, a fireplace, and impressive oak doors–has been preserved as a reading room. It’s not a place teens have much opportunity to enjoy unless they’re quietly studying for finals all alone. It’s quiet. It gets dark. The doors close behind you, and then…..
It becomes an ideal spot to try out a locked room/escape room program.
We hosted this escape room as an after-hours program. Teens entering 6th-10th grade arrived at the library before closing to register and get matched into teams. The meeting room was the designated “holding pen” where we provided board games and snacks while the teams waited their turn to be called into the puzzle room. Each team was given 15 minutes to solve a series of puzzles that would ultimately lead to the key that opened the door. It was a blast, and we’re in the process of planning another similar program for the fall.
Things to know
You cannot do this program alone.
Logistics alone required us to have two staff members because the teens were in two different spaces in the library. On top of that, it’s really bad practice to host an after-hours program by yourself in case emergencies arise. Fortunately, one of my coworkers is an escape room enthusiast and was a tremendous help in getting this program off the ground. Plus, it’s just fun to plan with someone else!
You don’t have to come up with all of the puzzles on your own.
Guys! There is this FANTASTIC resource out there that you can use for free to help you plan your escape room, but shhhhhhh–don’t let the teens know! Breakout Edu has pre-assembled kits to purchase and open-source plans to follow, so you’re able to use their resources even if you are doing this program on a shoestring. They also have a very active Facebook group with a dedicated cadre of educators and puzzle enthusiasts who are ready to help. We used The Mighty Pen game from the site, but modified it to fit the time constraints we had.
You might want an actual camera
I have no photos to show you from this awesome program because I used my phone to time the groups… which precluded me from using my camera app. Bring a camera so that you can snap photos at a moment’s notice while still updating the teams on their time.
Tweens and Teens are just different
Two of our teams were in 6th and 7th grade, two were in 8th-10th grade. The way the younger groups approached the puzzle was dramatically different from the way the older groups did. If you have mixed age groups, expect the tweens to need more clues and have less focus than the older teens. When I do this with a younger group in the future, I’m considering numbering the clues so that they’re able to more clearly see what they have yet to find. The older groups worked more efficiently and did more creative problem solving, but wanted to hang out in the meeting room and play games less.
Practice makes perfect
Plan far enough in advance that you can have a test group–family, friends, coworkers–run through the puzzles before the big day. It will help you with timing, help you iron out any glitches, and see what kinds of rules and guidelines and clues you will need to provide
It’s a heck of a lot of fun!
This is one program that was well worth the effort. It brought in teens I’d never seen in the library before, teens I hadn’t seen in years, and our stalwart fans as well. It was fairly inexpensive, creative, engaging, and everyone involved had a blast.
Filed under: TPIB
About Heather Booth
Heather Booth has worked in libraries since 2001 and am the author of Serving Teens Through Reader’s Advisory (ALA Editions, 2007) and the editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Servcies along with Karen Jensen.
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