The impetus for this blog came from hearing from several colleagues asking for information about our recent Escape Room program series. You can’t describe construction of live-action games in a sentence or two over social media – (I can’t describe anything in a sentence or two as it is) so I began work on a manual for the program that I could share (it’s coming to this blog soon…soon-ish) with those who wanted more information.
As I’ve been putting the manual together (and once I started thinking about starting this blog,) I realized that I’d been doing original, live-action games at my library since I started working as a Teen librarian. Literally: my first-ever program as an ‘official’ teen librarian was a Mystery Night.
Many libraries do ‘Mystery Nights,’ and they vary in form and function depending on who is creating them, as should be expected. I learned about this program at my first library job, under the tutelage of one of my early mentors, Kate. She ran it as an after-hours game for teens that was her most popular event of the year. When I moved off Long Island, I actually drove back home the very next weekend to help Kate with that years’ installment. (It was amazing – the teens knew I had left so they had no idea I was the person dressed in black, running around our tiny library, dropping heavy books, putting phones off hooks so they’d screech, randomly shrieking, etc. as I ‘haunted’ the library.)
When my former director told me, a mere month into my tenure, he wanted a big-deal teen event ASAP to help demonstrate the value of teen services to town budget hawks, I panicked for a minute – I still had no idea what I was doing most days and I certainly hadn’t gotten a read on the needs and/or desires of the teens in town – but then I remembered Mystery Night. With a quick call home, a blessing and a warning, I was on my way to my first program.
The blessing was permission to replicate an event structure that had been Kate’s brainchild. The warning was this: You know what you are doing, so don’t let anyone rush you through the time you need to get this right. It is a piece of advice I’ve been privileged to give other teen and programming librarians over the years.
There is no experience quite like diving headfirst into a complex, multifaceted program when all eyes – staff, supervisors, parents, town officials and most of all, the laser-focused eyes of teens and tweens who’d never had events just for them in the library – are on you. I learned a lesson during that process that still holds true: If you build them a unique experience, teens will come.
Since then we’ve adopted this as one of our guiding principles of event planning, and used it to construct live-action events and games around popular book series, movies, video games and just about everything under the sun. I plan to write more about our method – which has evolved over the years into something that I would have found incomprehensible (but really so much easier!) than what we first did in ’06 – and how over time it has become the base structure for of dozens of events as I move forward in compiling this blog, but this is still our most beloved (not biggest – and that’s an important distinction) annual program. It has become a community tradition, one that younger siblings can’t wait to participate in, and one that older teens who have little time for library programs in their busy lives return to, so they can have their turn haunting the library.
Our newest teen librarian was an attendee at that very first Mystery Night. (My back audibly creaks when I think about that.) She recently found one of the props from that Saturday night so long ago, as seen earlier in this post, and brought it in to show me. She kept it. I wish I had kept pictures of that event somewhere.
As I put the finishing touches on this monstrous Escape Room manual – our most ambitious live-action game yet – it turns out that everything old is new again. Again.