What’s the Big Deal About Escape Rooms?

by Stefanie

“Is this part of it?” one kid asks me. He’s holding up a clock that I had propped up in a corner of our program room, one of several dozen random (or, seemingly random) objects scattered on tables, on countertops, and even on the floor.

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I’m careful with my poker face. “I don’t know. Is it?” I throw back at him. He looks at it again, then puts it aside on the table marked “Important Things.”

He knows if he really needs help, I’ll give it to him. But instead, he figures it out on his own a few minutes later (as it turns out, the time on the clock is also the combination to a lock across the room). And the group gets way more excited about it, because they crack it all on their own.

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A bunch of objects scattered around – some significant, some not – may not sound like your typical library program. But this type of event has quickly become one of the most popular library programs int he U.S. It’s called an escape room, and the one we did for the teens his July was by far our most popular teen program of Summer Reading. In fact, the gears are already turning in my head, determining when and how I’m going to do the next one.

Ten years ago, no one had ever heard of an escape room. Now, there are almost 3,000 permanent escape rooms around the world. And this number doesn’t include the pop-up escape rooms that can be found at conferences and in public libraries. One can easily fall down a rabbit hole on Pinterest looking at suggestions on how to set up an escape room for your friends in the privacy of your own home. Permanent escape rooms create elaborate and detailed adventures tailored to different themes and skill levels, and can cost $30-50 per person (or more) for an hour-long event. They are hugely popular, and public libraries, as they usually do, are trying to capture the zeitgeist in their program offerings.

The concept of the escape room – although it has elements of medieval hedge mazes and role-playing games – can be traced directly back to video games based on the same concept: you’re in a room, and you have to solve a mystery to get out. The first of these games, Behind Closed Doors, was released in 1988, when PC games were still text-only. The escape room concept became truly popular, though, as a result of a 2004 Japanese video game called Crimson Room. From here, real world escape rooms were born, starting in Japan but then spreading into Europe and the U.S., with the first American company opening in 2013 in Seattle (probably not coincidentally in the same city where the first Starbucks opened).

The concept is deceptively simple. The room is the framework, and wraps the mystery up into a nice package while also providing the challenge: the clues almost always lead you to a key that allows you to “escape the room” (hence the name). But you’re surrounded by clues or potential clues, and it’s up to you to work your way through all the puzzles to get to the end. So the room is both the problem and the solution at the same time. Themes vary from the classic Private Eye mystery to the X-Files to Ancient Greece. The puzzled are generally organized so that no specific knowledge is needed. You need only bring your puzzle-solving skills to the table.

But most importantly, you’re working against a timer to solve the mystery. The adrenaline rush of racing to finish in time is a huge aspect of the appeal. To this we can add the immersive experience created by all of these themed adventures. Rooms set in specific time periods put huge effort into verisimilitude, and even fanciful rooms set in fictional worlds aim to include so much detail that players feel like they’ve stepped onto the Holodeck (apologies to non-Star Trek fans: this would be the computerized room that whisks you into any scenario, place, or story you can think of). In other words, it is a perfect pairing for libraries, where readers come to find the next book that will throw them into a new immersive fictional (or nonfictional, for that matter) experience.

Our escape room registration filled up several days before the event. We opened more slots, and it immediately filled again. The kids came ready to solve, and every group managed to finish nicely within the 30-minute time limit. The beauty of a program like this is that the core elements will remain the same: locks, invisible ink, objects tucked into secret places, messages to decode. But each time they can be rearranged and done with a different theme so that the same set of participants can return and get something totally new. This is what has made escape rooms so accessible and universally popular.

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This summer was the library’s first attempt at an escape room, but it was so popular and fun that we’ve got one planned for adults in September. So, if this sounds interesting to you, keep an eye on our program schedule, like us on Facebook and Instagram @anbllibrary, and check the website regularly. And be sure to register early!

 

 

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What Can the Library Do for Teens?

by Stefanie

I’ve been a library nerd my whole life, since well before “nerd” and “geek” became proud terms that we  nerds reclaimed from those people who might use them against us. I was raised by a library nerd. It’s in our blood, and is definitely why I’m working at the library today, writing this particular post.

The more recent evolution of the public library, from book repository into community resource and meeting place, has been an unexpected bonus. I could not have predicted all the services our public libraries would add (or what the next several decades will bring), but for me, that transition has transformed me from a library lover to a librarian, and transformed the library itself from hobby to career. I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Libraries were always cool, but now they are filled with librarians who spend their time thinking, “Yeah, we’ve done lots of cool things already, but what ELSE can we do?”

That brings me to our teens.

We are lucky to live in an area where the high school provides a ton of after-school activities for its students. Teens can be involved in sports, drama, robotics, and all kinds of other clubs catering to their interests after school is over. But it is still our goal as a library to be a resource and meeting place for teens (and tweens) as much as for adults and children. So we look for gaps that we can fill, services and other things we can offer to teens they might not be able to get from them middle or high schools.

We try to fill these gaps in one of two ways. First, we do our research. We look around at programs that other libraries are doing, programs that seem like they would be appealing to people who have attended our programs before, or just ones that are plain fun (Dungeons & Dragons, anyone?).

Second, and far more important, we get out there and ask our teens and tweens what they want to do. We ask them at our existing programs, when they come in to the library, and, when we can manage it, at school directly (after all, we want to find kids who wouldn’t already be coming into the library, as well). We can create programs until we can’t think of a single other thing to do, but it won’t matter if we’re not going directly to our teens and getting their opinions. We’re here for you, so who better than you to tell us what it is you’re looking for?

By that same token, we want to expand the materials we have for check-out for teens and tweens, as well. I love young adult and middle grade (who doesn’t?), and as both these areas become more dynamic, we try to do the same with our collection. This means keeping up with the books you want to read, as well as adding to our teen non-fiction. Non-fiction is all about providing materials on subjects you’re actually interested in. Our collection should feel inclusive, and should make clear to our whole community that all of us are important and valued.

Our goal in the coming months is to get a Teen Advisory Board up and running. This would be a group that meets monthly to put together and give feedback on programs, help us make decisions, maybe get exclusive access to new books before everyone else, and eat snacks (the snacks are very important). Teens who participate in the TAB group can get volunteer credit for coming, as well as get to pick the programs we do. How awesome is that?

If you’re interested in being a part of this group, please let us know!

And above all, talk to us. If there’s a program you want us to do, tell us. If there is a book or author or even topic you want included on our shelves, tell us. That’s what we’re here for!

Our next teen program is our No-Fish Sushi Making program at 3:00pm on Thursday, March 22. Drop in and join us. Or even drop in to tell us what else you’d like to be doing! We can’t wait to hear from you!

The Case for YA Literature

by Britney

This blog post was originally posted on my personal blog, Inkblot Ideas.  You can see the original post here. (And follow, if you love books, reading, writing, and all manner of fun quirkiness!)

 

I have a confession to make: I read a lot of YA (young adult, for those of you who are wondering) literature.  Ok, ok, maybe it’s not a confession, since if you all are paying attention, you know that already.  But it’s true, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I actually have an extremely eclectic reading taste – I’m game for almost anything, save terrifying, bloody horror books, and Amish fiction.  This is because I ❤ books, I appreciate authors and want to support their heroic work, and I like to learn things about all the things (except stabby, murdery psychopaths and sweet, sweet Amish love).

I have always been a #reader, but over the years have read for different purposes.  As a child, I read because I enjoyed it; as a student, I read because I had to; as an adult I still read because I have to, but not because it’s required – rather, it’s a compulsion.  It’s not for a grade, but for the soul.  Because I’m old now, and can do what I want (*insert sarcastic laughter here), I read what I want.  My time is limited, and I don’t see the point in torturing myself by wasting precious hours reading something I don’t enjoy.  I enjoy YA literature.

“But, why?” you ask.  “YA lit is for, you know, teenagers.”  I respectfully disagree.  Saying that is like saying teenagers shouldn’t read contemporary fiction, or nonfiction because those genres aren’t written to target a teen audience.  YA literature is a unique creature unto itself, in that it can be about anything.  YA literature is not tied to genre limitations; is is not stifled by literary conventions.  YA authors aren’t afraid to put it all out there and write about cyborg Cinderellas or about children hunting other children to amuse evil adults; they aren’t afraid to take risks.  They aren’t afraid of what their audience may think – they know kids are up for anything.

So why is YA literature thought of as being less than

Currently, YA literature is experiencing an explosion in popularity.  YA books are ending up on best seller lists; they are taking up huge amounts of space in bookstores; they are being turned into blockbuster films.  Are there really that many teens reading books?  NO.  While there are a lot of teens who read, the explanation for what can only be called the YA Phenomenon is this: adults are reading YA books.  Why?  BECAUSE YA BOOKS TALK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS that adult books don’t.  Here’s an example: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, published by HarperCollins this past February, is about an inner-city girl who witnesses her childhood best friend shot and killed by a police officer while unarmed, and the implications and fallout of that situation.  It places the reader squarely within the story, and provides a perspective most readers may never get.  No AF (adult fiction) books are talking about this topic – something that is very timely and relevant.  Yet Thomas is brave enough to do so, and to an audience that is open-minded enough to consider that other perspective.  Another example is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  This book follows Junior as he moves from the reservation to the suburbs where he navigates the minefield that is trying to make friends while battling social stereotypes.  This book highlights specific identity issues facing indigenous peoples, and resonates with many who feel marginalized.  *Looks around – AF?  Anything on this?  No?

The examples I used here are two contemporary novels, set in reality.  Many YA authors choose to tackle these issues, as well, only in a fantasy context.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is a good bellwether for this: she highlights society and class, as well as identity, but sets the story in a post-apocolyptic world.  YA books deal with questions of drug culture, suicide, death, violence, identity, sex, acceptance, family, relationships, mental health, etc., ad infinitum.  You name it, there’s a YA book that talks about it.  YA is valuable because people can relate to the books, no matter how old the reader is.

YA books also provide:

Escapism – Most people don’t want to sit down, crack open a book, and read about depressing things.  They want to, at least for a little while, bail on their real life.  Settings in YA books are often fantastical and foreign, and allow readers to step away from their lives and experience something that speaks to their imagination, rather than their reason.

Excitement – Let’s get real here for a minute.  There are some AF books that are boring AF.  YA books, no matter the genre, are always moving.  Because teens are always moving.  There is drama; there is action – and most of the time, the two are happening at the same time.

Strong Characters – In case you haven’t met one for a while, and need to be reminded, let me point out: teens are opinionated.  They are learning, they are developing their own thoughts and world views, and they want to see the same thing in their book hero(ine)s.  Many YA books are written in 1st person point of view, so the reader hears the character’s voice specifically.  The voices are strong and sure, and inspire that same confidence.  Additionally, there are many, many strong female characters in YA lit, who represent some of the most individual voices in literature of any genre.

Hope – For all the “issues” found in YA literature, rarely do things end on a negative note.  This is because the authors realize they are writing for the next generation, who have a lot to look forward to.  Soul-crushing situations are resolved, hurts are mended, and the bad guy is rightfully punished.  Teens are creative and they’re smart, and they have a habit of looking forward, rather than backward; YA authors do a wonderful job of giving them something bright to move toward.

It crushes my soul when I hear critics (and by critics, I mean other readers) bash YA literature as “shallow” or “dumbed down” derivatives of AF.  Because this is not the case.  YA literature is just as sophisticated and important as every other genre of book out there, because it does its job: it speaks to its audience.  And its audience listens, and loves it.

Just one last thought: if it wasn’t for YA authors, we wouldn’t have Harry Potter; we wouldn’t have Katniss Everdeen; we wouldn’t have Anne Shirley; we wouldn’t have Bilbo Baggins.  Some of the most iconic and beloved literary characters ever created are products of YA literature.

So next time someone scoffs at you because you choose to spend your time reading a YA book now and again (or always), don’t be ashamed to stand up for those authors who choose to create iconic characters and memorable settings, and who choose to face the hard issues head-on and try to make sense of them.

(All those gorgeous covers, though…)

Transforming Teen Programming

by Kristen

I am super excited for the advances we are making as a library in our offerings geared toward teens.  To me, getting teens to some to the library used to seem like pulling teeth.  And, as librarians, we don’t like teeth; we like books, and we like to have fun!  So how do you get teens to get interested in the events going on at the library?  The answer isn’t as simple as we would like it to be, but by consistently trying, we are beginning to come up with ways to get them in.

 

In 2015, we had thirty-seven teens (grades 6-12), sign up for our Summer Reading Program.  I used to try my hardest to get teens to come to the library.  I tried movie nights, book clubs, and art groups.  The harder I would try, the more I seemed to get discouraged.  The club room would be all set up for a fun evening, and as the time for the program crept up on me, I continued to be the only person in the room.

However, persistence truly does pay off.  I think we are finally starting to get through to the teens!  Woo-hoo!  As of right now, we are helf-way through this year’s program, and we already have seventy-five teens signed up for our reading program!  To me, that is a huge success.  Lately, we have been offering engaging events to capture their attention.  Recently, we had an after-hours Harry Potter party, and had a whopping twenty-two excited teens attend.  The week after, we showed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (©Warner Bros.) , and had a dozen show up.  Compared to having an empty room, the response to our recent programs has be feeling ecstatic and very motivated.

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In the coming weeks, months, and even years, my goal is to see teen participation in our library, as well as libraries as a whole, continue to grow and advance.  As technology continues to improve, libraries will continue to change and adapt to meet the needs of our community members, including the future of those communities: the teens.