ALA Annual Conference 2018 – Escaping the Library

I’m writing about ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, and I’m up to Sunday afternoon. After a publisher lunch (one of the yummiest meals I’ve ever eaten!), I went to a short film called “A Chance to Dress” about a Harvard professor who cross dresses, and has since he was a child. He’s not transgender and sees himself as too tall to pass for female anyway. But he often dresses as a woman and takes delight in that. His wife says he’s a more pleasant, softer person when he doesn’t go too long without it.

Then I went to a more practical session — “Escape the Library: Escape Room Design Workshop,” presented by Sarah Mulhausen and Adam Stockley from Tulsa City-County Library. Here are my notes:

[I’ve done several escape rooms using a lock box and ideas from Breakout EDU. But Breakout EDU has switched to a subscription service, and most of their programs are really more suited to a classroom setting. So I’ve been thinking about creating my own. Any ideas will be helpful. This program was so crowded, I had to sit in the back on the floor.]

First definitions: An Escape Room is a real life game that integrates puzzles with physical challenges. There’s usually a theme that intertwines with the clues.

Teamwork is essential. This is a STEM program, using logical, lateral, and spatial thinking.

These programs have had by far the highest turnout for teen programs at their branch.

How to build an Escape Room?

1) Choose a theme.

Use what you love. The more knowledgeable you are, the better.

Start listing ideas. “It would be cool if…” Have 10 to 20 ideas.

Examples from their Harry Potter room: Using a pensieve, making a potion, getting sorted into houses.

2) Describe what’s in your room.

How should it look? Example: Stone walls, pensieve, potions book…

3) Create a story

Make it creative and consistent with the theme. Be urgent and interesting, with a clear and logical ending that makes the winners feel triumphant.

4) Make a flow chart.

This is where you really build your room. Conceptualize the flow of the room. She writes on different colored index cards to make a flow chart.

Different colors for: Object – Challenge – Reward

In a linear room, one clue leads to another. Nonlinear rooms have multiple starting places.

[Note: They recommend a linear room to start, but the rooms I have done with Breakout EDU have all been nonlinear. The good thing about that is that there are no bottlenecks.]

5) Make a puzzle for every challenge.

Write short descriptions of every challenge on cards.

Make puzzles contingent on being in the room, not on prior knowledge.

If you’ve got a linear room, start with an easy puzzle.

Examples: Jigsaw puzzles with clues on the back, things in the room, locks, computer lock, hidden objects, cyphers, QR codes, weird keys… Google it!

6) Build and test the room.

Change what you need to change and test it again. Give yourself PLENTY of time.

Extras: Costumes, actors, decorations, food. The more you do, the more immersive.

Budget: Use the resources available to you. (They use funding from their Friends.) Recycle and reuse, ask friends…

Age limits and group sizes: Stick to it! The younger you go, the more concepts you lose. The bigger the group, the fewer people feel they’ve participated. They do a few times in one day, with a good hour in between sessions.

Advice: Make backups of anything that could disappear or get broken.
Give plenty of time to reset the room between sessions.
Make a reset list for the room.
Streamline the room to only what’s needed for the game.
Don’t wait until the last minute. Allow two months minimum to figure out a room.
Do you need to be in the room? (With younger kids, Yes!)
If you’re in the room, should you offer help?
Try to design the room to be hands-free for you.
Have a Session Zero — explanation and instructions before they enter the room.

Some examples they did: Mario room — boxes with tissue paper bottoms – coins with clues fell out.
Pensieve – a video under the bowl and fog on top.
Potions – Cabbage water turns purple – add acid or alkaline to change color. “Graded” potion with the correct color gets a clue.

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