I’ve wanted to host a Minecraft program at my library ever since I began working there last August. I mentioned the idea to our teens and quickly saw that there was a captive audience for it. Minecraft is the epitome of this year’s YALSA presidential theme; with this game you can connect with your teen patrons, encourage them to collaborate, and create amazing things within the game! When Teen Tech Week came along, it felt like the perfect opportunity to test out a Minecraft program.
Working in a small library with limited resources, I knew there would be obstacles to overcome. We have eight public computers that are positioned directly in the center of the library and do not have a separate room for a teen space. Our lack of computers limited the number of potential participants right from the start since I knew I wouldn’t be able to use all of the computers. We also share a network with the other libraries in our consortium so I knew that hosting a server would be complicated.
I was also worried that my Minecraft skills were not up to par. I know a lot about the game, but I have to confess that I don’t really play….at all. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to monitor the players in a way that would work for everyone. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to help players who got stuck. I worried that something would go wrong with the game, and I wouldn’t be able to fix it.
Even with all these obstacles, without a budget, and without much technical know-how, I was able to pull off a successful Minecraft program at my public library…and you can, too!
The first thing I worked on was diversifying my playing options. Minecraft also comes in a Pocket Edition offered on the iPad, iPhone, or Android. Since my library has four iPads for program use, I was able to download the Pocket Edition and because our iPads are all networked, for the price of one app, we were able to play on all four iPads at once. This allowed me to provide teens with more ways to play. The Pocket Edition does have some limitations your gamers might not appreciate; at the moment, there is no multiplayer option and many of the in-game materials are not yet available. I decided, therefore, to only use the iPads for building challenges. The upside is players do not need to have a Minecraft account to play on the iPad, eliminating any monetary limitations.
Minecraft is also available through Xbox 360. This is a good option for offering multiplayer game opportunities, especially if you don’t have enough available computers. The downside to this option is that the Xbox edition is also slightly different from the computer version and you can’t have players on computers playing with the players on the Xbox. This is an option I haven’t explored yet but I am keeping it in my back pocket for the future.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: utilize your resources! There will be someone in your community, whether it is a library worker or a patron, who plays Minecraft. People in the Minecraft community are always willing to help and share their knowledge (which to me, is the most attractive thing about Minecraft). My co-worker, a new intern with some Minecraft knowledge, set about creating two different scavenger hunts that asked the teens questions about the game and had them complete tasks like gathering the materials to forge diamond armor. I started planning my program around my limitations. I came up with themes to build around in creative mode, figuring we wouldn’t be able to play on a server together. We ended up being able to use a server he was already hosting which was a total program saver. With the scavenger hunt and the iPads, I was able to offer two different gaming experiences; one using a server, and one offline in creative mode.
In the end, the program was a hit, with about 14 teens attending. I had the teens work in teams of two on the scavenger hunts switching off half way through so everyone got a chance to try it out. While one group worked on the scavenger hunt, the other built on the iPads. Some teens asked permission to bring their own laptop which in the end was extremely helpful because it freed up both computers and iPads for some unexpected attendees.
The feedback I got was phenomenal. Some of it was expected; the teens requested more computers (ha!), a server, survival mode, or an adventure map. There were some technical difficulties with the scavenger hunt and many things that I wished we had gone over beforehand, but overall it went extremely well for our first try. The absolute best part for me was when, out of the blue, a teen turned to me and said “thank you for having this program!”
The bottom line is, there are many different ways to host a Minecraft program at your library. If you need ideas, check out some of the great things Sarah Ludwig is doing in her school library for inspiration. Another great resource is MinecraftEdu from Joel Levin. Joel (@minecraftTeachr) has partnered with Mojang, the makers of Minecraft, to bring Minecraft into classrooms around the world. Explore the MinecraftWiki, or one of the many Minecraft forums online for answers to any questions you might have.
If you are looking for some Minecraft-related entertainment, check out the many hilarious, amazingly well-made, and often informative music video parodies on Youtube. (Minecraft music video program anyone?) If you aren’t sure about hosting a server (something I’m still in the process of figuring out), think about throwing a LAN party, a temporary gathering of gamers that establish a local-area network which can be used for multi-player options.
Most of all, talk to your teens! The teens already know all the technical details necessary for pulling off a Minecraft program. They also know what they want to do when playing the game, and they have great ideas on how to pull it off. The biggest thing you can do to facilitate a Minecraft program is provide the SPACE. At the end of our Teen Tech Week program, a parent commented that while her daughter plays online with her friends all the time, just being able to play together in one room was completely gratifying for her. As with every teen program I have tried, it is obvious that what the teens want the most is a place to hang out together.
Provide that, and they will show up for almost anything!