At Penn State, we have a summer program for students starting school as first-years in the fall. This program is known on campus as LEAP, Learning Edge Academic Program. Students move to campus, are paired up with a mentor, and take two classes. Generally, one of the classes will be a general education requirement class and the other will be an entry level major class.

The library has been involved with this program, mainly coordinating instruction sections and getting students introduced to their subject librarians. This summer, with a new coordinator in charge of the program, we decided to test out some new outreach ideas. Our hope was to increase the library’s exposure and encourage these soon-to-be first-year students to take advantage of our services before everyone came back for the fall.

Our first outreach item was to create an escape room experience as an orientation to the library. My colleague was inspired by a session she attended at LOEX 2017 where a library talked about how they had created one of their own. While we cannot lock students in a room, we can lock a box they have to unlock. This project took some work to create; we experienced our own escape room in State College, to get a better understanding of how this game works, we read books from others who had set up their own low tech escape room experience, and we created goals for the experience (students will find a book in the stacks using our library catalog, use one database, explore one of our LibGuides, and become more familiar with navigating the physical space of our building). With those goals we mind, we then had to write a story that would frame the adventure.

Playing off of our library history, and one man who half our library is named after, we came up with the following narrative:

The cornerstone of the Pattee Library is missing. Dismayed at the lack of appreciation for all his great grandfather has done for Penn State, Fred Lewis Pattee the IV has taken it. He will only return it to the person or persons who can successfully follow the clues, proving their appreciation of his great-grandfather and what he meant to the history of the university.


The escape rooms were high energy and fun. We reached around 30 students, from a wide variety of majors. Some had experience with our library (in the form of a tour or library instruction session) and others were newbies to our space and resources. After a few “escapes,” we figured out where our weak spots were. There were not enough puzzles (students wanted more!) and there was one particular clue that was hard to decode. When the students sort of decoded it, they also didn’t make the same leap to the next location as we had when we were creating the game. We are excited to revise the game for the fall and also think through if any front-end instruction will need to happen to prepare students for the game.

The second large outreach we tried were Pop Up Libraries. Essentially, we wanted to “set up shop” in a location where students were more likely to be – their residence halls. In my previous experience working in a residence hall library, I had tried something similar by tabling in the dining halls (with lukewarm success). Through coordination with our LEAP contacts, we were able to set up a table with library resources every Thursday in one of the residence hall commons, near their dining hall. Every week, we brought items from our leisure reading collection (popular books, movies, and TV shows) and then featured an aspect of our subject libraries and their collections. We even got it set up so we could check the items out of students if they saw something that caught their eye.

While we didn’t have hundreds of students check out items, I would say our Pop Up Libraries were a success. Each week we checked out at least one item and talked to engaged students who were genuinely interested in why we were outside their dining hall. We also increased our exposure with housing staff (who, in my experience, are fantastic collaborators). This actually got us a meeting with one of the residence directors who is interested in continuing the Pop Ups in the fall. My colleague and I also got really good at packing up books, display stands, tablecloths, and mini 3D printer lions (as giveaways) and setting it up in the commons. Sometimes outreach is carrying around a bunch of stuff and putting it up somewhere new. 

So, tell me more about your summer outreach experiences. Did anyone else attempt an escape room experience and if so, how did it go? Do you host anything similar to the Pop Up Libraries? What was the most successful outreach activity you had this summer?   

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as the Student Engagement Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.

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