Escape the Library

Andrea Elson April 8, 2016, 1 comment

Radnor Library hosted an Escape the Library program which required a group of teens to work together, solve puzzles, find clues and unlock a room within one hour.

Type: Active
Age: Middle school
Optimal size: 11-20
Estimated cost: $1 - $25
Planning time: <2 hours
Frequency: One-time

Learning outcomes

This program was entirely teen driven. I basically setup the scenario (you are locked in the room with one hour to escape) and the teens needed to investigate, explore and crack codes and clues to get the keys and combinations to unlock the doors.  Deciding on what leads to pursue and what clues were most helpful taught teens to make decisions and work together in a group. Teens also developed logic and reasoning skills by figuring out codes and also improved fine motor skills with unlocking padlocks and combination locks.

The program also helped make the library a destination for a Friday evening program. We want our teens to view the library as a place in the community where fun things are happening for them. By offering our program on a weekend night, teens had a safe, engaging outlet to hang out with their friends and have a good time.


Setting up the Room: Our Escape the Library  program was held in our large programming space that was made smaller by hanging black plastic table cloths as "walls". We had the main doors as the locked doors with three locks. We have access to our room via a small kitchen so everyone could enter the locked room and I could also survey the activity on my side of the table cloth walls. I used a word bike lock, a combination lock and a key lock as the three locks which would open the room. We had an ipad counting down the sixty minutes. We also threw in extra furniture, books and odds and ends as decoy objects in the room.

Planning the Escape: I created a flow chart that helped organize how clues would lead to the final key/combination/code. For example, a key hidden in the room led to a locked closet which had a black light. The black light then needed to be used on a poster where it had the code for a lockbox that had a final lock key. The batteries for the blacklight were in another object in the room so teens needed to recognize the batteries were interchangeable.

Running the Program: I initially briefed the teens in a separate room. I encouraged communication and working together as well as rules like cell phones were to be left off, certain objects like the fire extinguisher were not part of the game, nothing was in the ceiling and I will ask you to leave if you're being disruptive or rude. I had originally told the teens I would give three clues throughout the hour but they had to collectively ask for them. I ended up needing to do a little more hinting and guiding than just three clues. I let the teens totally run wild and explore the room for the entire 60 minutes. Unfortunately, they did not complete all three locks despite having all the right keys/combinations/codes. They had trouble physically doing the combination lock.


This program was a huge hit in terms of the number of teens signing up, feedback from the teens and parents and community feedback. I had originally hoped for ten teens but expanded our numbers to thirteen because interest was so high. I unfortunately had the program the same evening as the middle school musical which several teens told me they wished they could come to the program but had the musical. The parents of the teens who did participate profusely thanked me for hosting a fun event for their kids on a weekend night. We also got a lot of positive feedback from the community with several likes on our Facebook page as well as interest from other librarians on Facebook and the blog write up of the event.

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