Planning a Library Escape Room

By Gina Brander & Ann Liang
Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library

Stress Better is a semiannual Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library event designed to help students combat stress as they prepare for exams. As part of our 2017 event, the Library piloted an escape room at the Regina campus. Escape rooms are physical adventure games in which active participants solve a series of clues and puzzles to escape a room before the allotted time elapses. Academic libraries have used escape rooms for staff development workshops (Marks, 2017), library orientations (Salisbury & Ung, 2016), and library instruction (Pun, 2017). While our Library considered incorporating an information literacy component into the event, we ultimately decided that a fun, escapist approach would generate more interest and better support the aims of Stress Better. Given that many of our students more or less lock themselves in the library during this period of the semester, the irony of a library escape room was particularly appealing.

Since no one on staff knew the first thing about running an escape room, we decided to reach out to local businesses and ask if they would be interested in developing a mini version of one of their rooms. Emails were sent to three local escape rooms, emphasizing the promotional benefits of the partnership and making clear that we would not offer remuneration. To our delight, all three rooms expressed interest in assisting with the escape room. The Library chose to partner with a local, family-run business that had received favourable reviews online, and which had offered to design a new room based on our individual needs.

Over the next week, the escape room co-owner and a librarian selected an appropriate space (a small, windowless study room), determined length of gameplay (15 minutes) and discussed potential storylines based on available library furniture and props (weeded books, filing cabinets, whiteboards, wall-hangings, etc.). The co-owner developed the design and flow of the room. Then, a week before the event, the room was closed to allow for set up and testing. A script and reset list were prepared for the Library, and a faculty group was invited to trial the room before the official launch.

A variety of promotional methods were used. Due to the high foot traffic at the Regina campus, a chalkboard near the entrance and our frontline staff were the most effective channels of promotion. Participants returned to the library throughout the week to inquire about best time, which inspired us to promote a ‘time to beat’ on print posters and social media. This added competitive element kept the momentum going, and as the week progressed, we opened additional time slots at the request of students and faculty/staff.

Run & Reset
A staff member greeted each group and led them to the escape room. After laying down ground rules and introducing the scenario, they closed the (unlocked) door and set the clock. Each group was granted three clues, which could be requested via walkie-talkie. After the allotted time had elapsed (or after the group had ‘escaped’), the staff member returned to the room to debrief and answer questions about unsolved puzzles. After a brief photo shoot, the group was led out and the room was reset.

The escape room was successful, with 25 students and 14 faculty/staff taking part over the course of five days. In our post-Stress Better student survey, escape rooms were among the top three requested offerings at our next event. Based on our experiences, we can offer the following takeaways to libraries considering hosting a similar event:

• Faculty/staff want to participate! Consider leveraging an escape room for professional development, or as a method of raising employee awareness about issues like copyright.
• Team up with a local escape room for your first event. Utilizing the design expertise and props of an established escape room eliminates material costs and significantly reduces the amount of time required to plan the event.
• Elect one staff member to coordinate groups, send email reminders, and reset the room. Expect that they will have their hands full throughout the event.
• Pilot a room with a team of library staff to ensure participants have enough time to find their bearings, break through at least half of the puzzles, and team build.
• Host a ‘just for fun’ escape room with a competitive element to bring new students into the library and keep them coming back.
• Keep the momentum going by posting group photos and a ‘time to beat’ on social media.
• Utilize an escape room to offer a splashy, dynamic programming while also meeting the needs of students who use the library as a quiet study space.
• Expand your programming without expanding your budget by emphasizing the promotional benefits of partnering with your library.

Photo by Gina Brander


Marks, G. (2017). Escape Room! In the Library [PDF Document]. NJLA Annual Conference Poster Session. Retrieved from

Pun, R. (2017). Hacking the research library: Wikipedia, Trump, and information literacy in the escape room at Fresno State. The Library Quarterly, 87(4), 330-336. Retrieved from

Salisbury, F. & Ung, E. (2016). Can you escape the library escape room? Incite, 37(5/6), 24-25 Retrieved from;res=IELHSS;issn=0158-0876

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

NAP: Assisting Students Just In Time

by Tasha Maddison, Becky Szeman and Nina Verishagen
Saskatoon Campus, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Saskatchewan Polytechnic has four campuses located throughout the Province of Saskatchewan. In 2015/16 our student population was listed at over 14,000 (Saskatchewan Polytechnic, 2015). The institution offers an array of scholastic options in certificate, diploma and degree programs. Students have access to a variety of supports such as counselling, research help and learning services (tutoring). In 2014, faculty from learning services approached a librarian about partnering up to host an event with the mission of providing students with just-in-time help for research assignments: a Night against Procrastination (NAP).

Although the event was open to all students at the Saskatoon campus, the 2014 organizers developed it to fit into the schedule of nursing students who had a major paper due that semester. It happened that during this busy time of year, the two departments were having a difficult time keeping up with students’ individual requests for help. The inaugural event was held in early November from 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm in the library’s computer lab. Students were invited to enjoy food and one-on-one homework help. This event was a success with more than 40 attendees.

The following year, to entice students from other programs to attend NAP, the organizers hosted multiple events at different times. Despite the changes, attendance dwindled with approximately 20 students attending all events. But on a positive note, we did see a more diverse set of students attending from various programs.

For our latest iteration of NAP, in 2016, our mission was two-fold: revisit the events original intent of focusing on nursing students and diversify our service offering to make it more accessible to all students. At our initial planning meeting, we discussed strategies to achieve these goals. They included, continuing to provide snacks, sitting at an Ask Us table, extending the event beyond the computer lab to the whole library, and offering mini workshops.

We had an overabundance of snacks, so we decided to tour the library and hand them out to students. This was an unexpected success, as it opened the event to students who were present in the library, but were not there to attend NAP. We soon discovered that students were more likely to ask us questions if we approached them, organically making our snack giveaway a Roving Reference Service. Helping students where they had set up for the night led to more interactions than if we had stayed in one spot. We have carried this technique over into our recent ‘Stress Better’ event in which distributed food to students studying for exams.

Students also responded well to the Ask Us table with many approaching us at the table with their laptops in hand. Librarians responded to a total of 21 APA (references and formatting) questions, while learning services reviewed papers and offered writing support for 9 students.

Lessons Learned:
Students prefer the option of seeking one-on-one help. We had planned to host 15 minute mini workshops in the computer lab during the event but there was no uptake at all. The nursing students had already attended a 3-hour research intensive and in most cases their paper was almost complete; what they required was assistance in the last stages of editing.

Our promotion efforts fell short. We developed a web graphic for social media which received high engagement, sent an email directly to Faculty in research intensive programs, and had digital displays throughout the campus. We later learned, through anecdotal feedback, that the design (see below) might have led the students to believe that we were only hosting mini workshops and not providing one-on-one help. In addition to a graphic redesign, there are many other communication tools available at our institution that could have been utilized and we will be considering them for future events.


Final Thoughts:
Even though attendance has not increased since 2014, we feel that it is still worth doing. At our institution, students typically don’t have lengthy breaks throughout their day, and therefore, they are often unable to access librarians who work regular hours. With this event, we were able to offer students assistance at their time of need which may have reduced their anxiety. Helping even a few students improve their academic performance fulfills both our library and professional goals. We feel confident about this as a few of the attendees approached us at the end of the night and asked that we provide this sort of service more often, solidifying our certainty in this event’s value to our students.

The authors wish to acknowledge Chau Ha who initiated and hosted the event in 2014 and 2015. We also wish to recognize Margaret Campbell and Susan Healey who have partnered with us each year from Learning Services.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic. (2015). Quick facts about Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Retrieved from

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.