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TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program at your library

tpibPuzzles, mystery, a darkened library, a time limit, and the ominous feeling that a ghost just might be looking over your shoulder? Yes, please!

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.

two padlocks secure a weathered wood doorThings 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.

Breakout EDU logo: a left pointing arrow extending from an open boxGuys! 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.


  1. Totally love this as an after school activity. Most teachers combine it into a standard program but having a 2-hour window for setup/explanation/pack down would work great.

    A great follow-on activity is to give each team which plays it a group project of making their escape room. Keeping it to a goal of 20 mins works well and makes it more doable. Also means you can run another event where teams, or classes, get to play each other’s games. I made an editable template which simplifies a lot of the basic stuff – https://heistparty.com/rebel-revolt or grab Escape EDU, both are really good.


  2. The rate of escape rooms is growing exponentially around the globe right now. We took our kids to enjoy some family time and we had a great time.
    We used http://www.theplanetsescaperooms.com to find one nearby.
    Escape rooms are now adapting to a wide variety of crowds from kids to elderly.


  1. […] Locked in the Library! Hosting an escape room program at your library by Heather Booth at Teen Librarian Toolbox […]

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