Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries

Escape the Ordinary: Hosting an Escape Room at Your Library

Escape rooms: they’re all the rage. You know you want to host one. Go on, do it. It’s not that hard. It’s time consuming, but will be one of the most fun and rewarding things you do in your library career. Luckily, I work with amazingly creative and hard-working people, so that made it a breeze.

My library hosted a Harry Potter Escape Room for Harry’s (and J.K.’s) birthday. First, we would be nowhere without Robin Papaleka’s wonderful guide. This helped so much in determining a timeline and budget. We also used a few of her puzzles. Second, having Teen and Adult Services directors who are always willing to collaborate was vital.

Blogger as Professor Trelawney
Blogger as Professor Trelawney

Our team started planning a year in advance, but got serious about six months before the event. After initial discussions, I locked myself in a room for two hours and plotted the puzzles. It definitely helped that I’ve done several escape rooms with my very competitive family. Knowing what people are going to look for and how they’re going to behave (refusing hints because we think we’re smart enough to escape on our own) was a huge help in planning the puzzles. It also helped that I’m a big Potterhead and am constantly rereading and listening to the books.

We created a spreadsheet with the objects we would need and staff signed up to make or gather objects. So many staff were willing to help, either by making objects, setting up or leading groups through the room.  A Breakout EDU box, thrift stores and the internet were our best friends. Our other best friends were our fabulous IT Assistant and Adult Services Director who made sure our photos moved (moving portraits, Daily Prophet and Sirius Black wanted poster) and our mandrakes really screamed!

Escape Room display with The Daily Prophet

We held a dry run with our Teen Advisory Board. Their feedback was crucial and helped us become more familiar with the puzzles.

The escape room was held for two days with groups coming through on the hour from open to close. Registration was done by age group: ages 8-11 with a caregiver, ages 10-13, ages 12-18 and ages 18 and up. We designated time slots for each of these groups and were flexible if one age group filled and we needed to get someone in.

Our phenomenal Teen Services Director hosts a yearly Haunted House and that prepared us for this program. We used a lot of the same props and to block off a portion of the room, we used the black tablecloths we hang from the ceiling that create our haunted maze.

Potions and Such

In retrospect, I would have less word puzzles and more puzzles that focused on numbers or pictures. We had some kids who were struggling readers and the word puzzles were difficult for them, but they excelled in other areas. Several people who weren’t familiar with Harry Potter signed up, and some of the puzzles tripped them up, but we were able to give hints that weren’t Potter-related.

Homemade moving portraits, mandrakes, Sorcerer’s Stone, time turner, dragon egg & sneakoscope for use in the Escape Room
Homemade moving portraits, mandrakes, Sorcerer’s Stone, time turner, dragon egg & sneakoscope

It was such a joy to express our creativity and so much fun getting to live in this world for a few days. We were nervous about how it would go, but patrons were just incredibly happy to be a part of our mini Hogwarts. And things did go very well, so if you’re thinking of doing an escape room, I highly recommend it. Just solemnly swear that you’re up to no good and you’ll be all set.

(All photos courtesy of guest blogger)


Headshot of Rose Hopkins-LaRocco
Photo by William Hopkins

Today’s guest blogger is Rose Hopkins-LaRocco. Rose is the Children’s Services Director at La Grange Park Public Library in La Grange Park, IL. She received her MLIS from Dominican University. She would love to discuss escape rooms and Harry Potter, and Harry Potter escape rooms if you have questions. Rose can be reached at rose@lplibrary.org.

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 post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: Programming Skills

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