An A-Maze-ing Library Experience

Sometimes you get a big idea. And sometimes you get to make that idea a reality. This year my department was given funds to create big family programming, and I got the chance to build my idea: a giant cardboard maze that would encourage caregiver-child interaction and create a memorable library experience for customers of all ages.

Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

The Event

Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

A families-only Harry Potter-themed after-hours party kicked off the maze, which measured 75’ long, 15’ wide, and 6’ tall, and sat smack-dab in the middle of the main hall of Denver Public Library’s Central Library. Customers lined up out the door to wait for their turn to explore the maze. A staff member at the maze entrance spaced out families in two minute intervals to avoid traffic jams. We also hid the four Hogwarts house crests inside the maze. Kids were given maze passports, and when they found a crest there was a staff member dressed as a Harry Potter character waiting to stamp their passport. This allowed us to have staff in the maze in case of emergency.

Other party activities included pin the sock on Dobby, magic wand decorating, and, of course, tasty themed snacks. Having a theme for the maze wasn’t necessary, but it did make the event easier to promote. Plus, it meant lots of kids came dressed as their favorite Harry Potter character.

After the party we left the maze up in our main hall for a week so customers of all ages could explore the maze. In addition to walking through the maze, customers could look down from the 2nd and 3rd floors to plan their route or watch others go through the maze.

DPL staff putting the maze together. Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

DPL staff putting the maze together. Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

 

Construction

Children’s librarian, Warren Shanks, showing off a stack of newly purchased cardboard. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Children’s librarian, Warren Shanks, showing off a stack of newly purchased cardboard. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

I’d seen pictures of cardboard mazes online (thanks, Pinterest!), but I couldn’t find anything tall enough for adults. My goal was to create something that children and their caregivers could explore together. I wasn’t able to find any instructions online, so I decided to figure it out on my own. This process included lots of brainstorming and several mini-maze mock-ups. Here’s a list of things to consider, based on my experience.

  • Safety and Space. Measure your space and learn about your library’s safety rules and regulations. I met with the security, custodial, and facilities departments to get their input. From this meeting it was decided that we would have a minimum of 5’ of space on all sides of the maze. We also decided to include a third side entrance/exit to the maze in case of emergency.
  • Design the Maze. I had never designed a maze before so I was grateful to find some wonderful online resources. Jo Edkins has great info about maze layout and design and the tips on avoiding bottlenecks on Amazeing Art were useful. I found it helpful to first determine the entrances/exits and then divide the space into three “mini mazes.”
  • Shelvers Sarah Cosoer and Sallie King take a break from cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

    Shelvers Sarah Cosoer and Sallie King take a break from cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

    Planning and Paperwork. Make sure your plans are written down so others can understand them. This is the kind of project that requires teamwork and delegation, so it’s important that your paperwork is detailed and clear. Here’s a copy of the maze layout.

  • Purchase Materials. I purchased my materials from the following companies:
  • Purchasing Considerations.
    • Some companies require a minimum number of a particular item per order.
    • Freight shipping can add a significant amount to the cost of materials.
    • Height of your loading dock. Ours is very low, so this impacted delivery.
    • Talk to a representative. I was able to get more accurate quotes and ultimately a
      Warren uses a template to measure and cut a cardboard sheet. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

      Warren uses a template to measure and cut a cardboard sheet. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

      lower price by emailing and talking on the phone with a representative.

  • Prep as much of your maze ahead of time as possible. Call in your volunteers, friends, and family! Cutting and labeling our boxes required approximately 20 hours of prep time.
  • Putting It Together. It took us approximately 10 hours with 5 people working steadily to put the maze together with the prepped materials. This includes the 5 hours we used to construct 45 maze units the day before the event and stored them in our storytime room. The day of the event we had another 5 hours to assemble the other units and zip-tie them all together. Check out the step-by-step Maze Construction Instructions.
Templates used for cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Templates used for cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Conclusion

Yes, this maze took a ton of planning and staff labor, but it was worth it. From a numbers point of view, it was gratifying to have 300+ people come to the after-hours party. But it was even more satisfying to see the smiles, hear the laughter, and watch our customers find joy in exploring the maze. The maze was also an entry point for staff-customer interaction and encouraged customers to visit our 2nd and 3rd floors to look down on the maze. In short, it was an unforgettable library experience!

Photo credit: Will Forrester

Photo credit: Will Forrester

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Amy Uke

Photo Credit: Sherry Spitsnagle, Denver Public Library

Our guest blogger today is Amy Seto Forrester. Amy  is a children’s librarian at the Denver Public Library and has her MLS from Texas Woman’s University. She is always on the look out for creative ways to incorporate the arts into children’s services and programming to extend books beyond the page. Check out Amy’s blogs: http://picturebookaday.blogspot.com/http://chapterbookexplorer.blogspot.com/

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

This entry was posted in Guest Blogger, Programming Ideas and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to An A-Maze-ing Library Experience

  1. Rebecca McC says:

    WOW! I am in utter and complete awe of this. Great job to all who were involved!

  2. Kary Henry says:

    That is truly awe-inspiring! I love everything about this!

  3. Roxie Munro says:

    Wow! Super duper! Just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in ages. Sharing on FB and twitter. You guys rock!

    As you may know, I create lots of maze books (and a couple interactive maze apps). Here’s a page on my website that shows how to make a geometric maze (on paper…not in 3 dimensions, like your extra fantastic maze!). http://www.roxiemunro.com/make-a-geometric-maze.html

  4. Alia Shields says:

    Wow!! This is such a cool idea and I love the Harry Potter tie-in. I guess it could also be a great activity for a Maze Runner program.

  5. Erin says:

    What??! Holy wow! This is so awesome (A-maze-ing…couldn’t help it..)
    Thanks so much for sharing. What an inspiration!

  6. Pingback: On the Road Again, Reaching Out - ALSC BlogALSC Blog

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