Tween Programming–Escape Room in the Library

Library Escape Rooms are really big right now, so I tried to design this program so that any library can try to duplicate it.  Because making something like this is kinda daunting–where do you even start?  From what I’ve read, starting at the end is the best way to do it.

UPDATE: My “Escape Room in the Library: Year 2” is now complete!  You can see it here.

I knew didn’t want to my kids to actually “break out” of our room; I thought that would end badly.  So I thought that the end would be unlocking a suitcase that had candy bars.


So then I had to figure out where to put the key to unlock the suitcase.  So I got an idea from a library call number scavenger hunt.  I hid the key in a hollowed out book.  These are easy enough to make, and there’s probably a million pins about it already on the Pinned-Interest.


Next, I made a fake call number for the book and stuck it out in the stacks in our nonfiction section.  The call number was “J 793.735 DOY.”  793.735 is the Dewey call number for “riddles.”  Pretty cool, right?


So the final puzzle was actually NOT in the escape room, but I made sure to tell kids that the key to the suitcase was hidden somewhere in the library, and they had to solve the puzzles to find out where.

Still working backwards, I figured that now that each puzzle that was solved would now unlock a part of the call number.  Miss Gloria thought it would be a good idea to do only three puzzles, so I broke the call number into three chunks for the three different puzzles we would have.  Each chuck is color-coded, and matches the color on the sign where that number would go in the call number.  This was to try to make it easier on the kids.

Dewey Sign.JPG

Going off of the book idea, I figured our room’s theme would be “Crazy Librarian’s Office.”  That way, we don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of props, we can just use what we have lying around.  So we brought up an extra desk and furniture from the basement, and dressed it all with office supplies and junk to make it look busy.  Then we just hid all of our clues.

Room Setup.JPG

I decided that the office belonged to Miss Petra.  She’s an old and mean librarian–and of course she loves cats.  Because she kinda has to, right?


Still working backwards, Miss Gloria and I came up with the three puzzles that would unlock the three chunks of the call number.  I mapped out the plan like this; the end is at the top:

Escape Room Layout

Miss Gloria wanted to do one that number related and one that was word related, so we came up with using different kind of locks for different puzzles.

Puzzle 1

The “79” of the call number was locked in a box with a number combination.  The combination would be the numbers of a broken clock–from what I’ve heard this is used a lot but your kids won’t know that.


To know that, we would have the kids use a UV light to search the room.  If they looked at the portrait of Miss Petra on the wall, they would see “Time is the Key = Clock”  written in invisible ink around the frame.  We hid the UV light in a desk drawer with a clue attached to it that said “Use me to see in the DARK” so kids knew that it was important.


Puzzle 2

The “3.7” of the call number was locked in a box with a letter combination lock.  The answer was “BOOK.”  To figure that out, they would have to put together a puzzle that said the word “BOOK” on it.  For this we got a blank puzzle, wrote on it, and then hid them around the room.  It was just more stuff to find!!


Puzzle 3

The “35” of the call number was locked in a box with a padlock.  The key to that was hidden under Miss Petra’s chair with duct tape, so if they got this clue they could figure it out:

Goldilocks Puzzle.jpg

Goldi-LOCKS!  So to get that clue, they had to open a separate box with a separate key.  We hid that key in a dragon puppet, way back in the mouth so you would probably miss it if you were just searching really quick.


So in order to figure that out they had to find one of these bookmarks, which had “DRAGON” spelled out in sign language.  I hid three around the room in different spots.  And once they found the Sign Language Chart, they’d be all set.IMG_7886

If you take a look at the poster I made for the event, you’ll see that I basically GAVE my kids all the clues they needed right away.  WHAT?!  M. Night Shyamalan moment!!

Escape Poster

So that’s it.  Really low cost, the only thing we really bought was the letter lock, the LED UV flaghlight, the blank puzzle, and the invisible ink pens.  Everything else we had lying around.  So it’s a cheap and fun program to do.

Board Setup.JPG


We did it for three different groups of kids, 30 minutes each with a 5 minute reset time.  Overall it went very well for my first escape room.  But I definitely found out a few things.

First off go over your rules with every group.

Escape Room Instructions.jpg

They’re pretty self-explanatory.  I found it helpful to set up a separate table (the Clue Table) by the front of the room that kids could place important items and puzzle pieces on.  Overall, kids followed the rules wonderfully.  But I also started talking about the rules AFTER I started my timer.  That way, explaining the rules was on their time, and the faster we got through them, the more time we had.

As far as the actual game, it turned out that the puzzles were both too easy and too hard…if that makes any sense.  They figured out some of the puzzles right away, like the puzzle word lock and the “DRAGON” puzzle.  Super impressed by that!!  The chair puzzle and the Dewey number puzzle took a lot of help.  So next time, a lot more puzzles, but make them a bit easier, or maybe more clues for more difficult puzzles.

Also kids had a hard time working together.  Due to the popularity, there were more kids than we planned for and our tour groups were pretty big, which makes communication harder.  Mostly kids did okay working in a group, but a few kids would start working on a puzzle/clue that was already finished.  So I tried to fix this by bringing everyone in for a puzzle recap.  We would huddle around our “Clue Table” and talk about some of the things we found really quickly.  If something was already solved, I would point to it and some of the kids would tell me what it was and what the clue pointed to, so that everyone would know it was a dead end.  It was a great way to get everyone back on the same page.

And the last thing I would suggest is have a Reset Checklist.  Setting back up really fast is stressful, so have a checklist of where everything important needs to go back, what you need to lock, and where the keys need to go.  I thought I could just remember everything, but by the third group I was getting burned out and forgot to lock something.  It turned out fine, but it’s just a good way to make sure things go smoothly.

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31 thoughts on “Tween Programming–Escape Room in the Library

Add yours

  1. Thank you for taking the time to break down your steps and adding your recap and suggestions. I love this idea and your instructions give me the confidence that I can do this and personalize it to my library.


  2. Thanks a million for sharing! I can’t wait to try this. I’m thinking of trying it out as a reward after a reading contest. That way, I will know the size of my audience ahead of time. I can’t wait! THANKS!


  3. This is so great! I am so excited to try it. When you hid the clues (i.e. the puzzle pieces, the sign language bookmarks), were these just around for them to find with no clues? They just kind of explore?


    1. I hid the bookmark fairly well–they’ll find it pretty fast regardless I found. The puzzle pieces I hit pretty easily, but there were a lot of them to find so I thought it would take longer. It didn’t 🙂 They found them all right a way.


  4. Thanks for posting a great plan! I’m doing a Girl Scout Escape Room and the other resources have been so scattered. I will have 3 groups coming together in the end to unlock the final piece. Your ‘map’ is so helpful!!


  5. Thanks so much for this. I have used it as the basis for our own escape room challenge. I really appreciate you sharing your work in so much detail it was so useful.


  6. I’ve been exploring options for instituting an escape room at my library. I’ve got a ton of puzzle ideas and am now hashing out story-lines. I really liked the simplicity of your room setup. Thanks for sharing your hard work and tips for success.


  7. Hi,
    This is fantastic. Wanting to make my own for Summer Reading Club. Basing it of the book from escape from mr Lemoncellos Library. But wanting it so that the tweens will know how to use our library by the end of it.
    Do you have any ideas as to how to link clues to services we offer?


    1. I know there is a Lemoncello website and they will email you their plan so that could get you started. That’s initially what I modeled this escape room off of, but I found it too hard to tie in library lessons and also have a functioning escape room. That’s why I tried to tie one lesson into it–how to find a call number. Good luck 🙂


  8. This is amazing! I used some of your ideas for our escape the box at my library. I wish I had an Instagram name to tag you in. Thanks for posting!


  9. Thank you for sharing. It is always so helpful to know how others have approached a project when starting it without any experience whatsoever, and I especially loved how you’ve made the whole process of planning it so clear.


  10. We stole your idea and your chart and did our own version of this escape room yesterday. We had about 30 high schoolers come up and play and one of the boys who arrived late said, “Shoot! I should have gotten here earlier. This really looks professional. Thanks for the hints and ideas. It was great fun!


  11. I so appreciated the detail in this post!!! I have been searching for ways to do an escape room as a new teen librarian and am so thankful for this post – great things I can customize to different themes!! Thank you!!


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