Video games. Whether you yourself are a hardcore gamer or have only played Tetris on an old school Super Nintendo or don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, it’s pretty clear that teens are into gaming. But what can we do with this knowledge? How can we leverage teens’ enthusiasm for gaming and apply it to library programming (and even library literacy)?
An idea for a program started to form around the time In Real Life by Cory Doctorow was published. It was crunch time for getting our programs in, and our teen librarian, Trixie, was brainstorming ideas with me. That’s when she uttered the magic words: “IRL Mario Kart”.
This is what went down in my brain as a result. (Reader beware.)
What would the program entail? I don’t know, I want to do it!
But like, are they going to really be driving go karts? I don’t know, I want to do it!
It’s kind of dangerous for teens to be driving in the library, no? I don’t know, I want to do it!
Are they going to be in teams or…? I don’t know, I want to do it!
But…. I don’t know, I want to do it!
So I did the only logical thing and submitted a vague program description, hoping that I could deliver on whatever “IRL Mario Kart” meant. Lucky for me, it ended up being something much more substantial than what my trigger happy brain anticipated.
I scratched out the idea for go karts pretty early in the planning stages and needed to come up with an alternative format where teens could still “race” around the library.
No go karts, huh? Yeah, that sucks.
What about a treasure hunt? Treasure hunt?
Like they could “race” to find all the clues. Hmmm…that could work.
What if the clues were item boxes like in Mario Kart? I’m listening…
So sometimes they would get a bad item and that would slow them down. I like that!
AND they would also learn library call numbers too! YES! So many yeses!
So that’s what I did. As a fan of Mario Kart, I knew that I could apply the general format of the game to a library treasure hunt.
At the program, each team of teens was given a clue that started them on the treasure hunt in different parts of the library. The clue just showed a call number or a service desk where they could find their next clue. The tricky part was, like in Mario Kart, the clue was encased in an envelope that looked like an item box, so teens had no idea if they were getting a good clue or a bad clue.
If it was a good clue (like a mushroom or a star) they would move on to the next location via call number that had the next clue. If it was a bad clue (like a thunder cloud or a spiny blue shell) they would need to come to The Hub (the teen space) to earn their next clue.
Every time a team found themselves with a bad clue, they needed to complete a Mario Kart-themed Minute to Win It challenge! For instance, a volunteer from the team would place a mushroom cookie on their forehead and needed to eat the cookie using only the muscles in their face! And once a team completed their challenge (or a full minute passed) they were given the call number for their next location. The challenge was hilarious to watch for me and delicious for them.
Like in most racing games, there was a clear winning team who finished the hunt first. They got their moment of glory as well as a small prize before everyone was invited to free play Mario Kart in our teen space. Teens had just lived Mario Kart, but I figured we could go back to basics and play the video game too.
After surveying the teens who attended this program, I found that they did learn new things about the library. Sure, they had fun finding clues and competing with other teens, but they also expressed that they didn’t realize certain areas of the library even existed! Finding item boxes was fun, but that also meant accurately reading call numbers!
All in all, the program ended up being a win for both teen gaming enthusiasts and library literacy enthusiasts. Personally, I think it was Literacy FTW!
Alice Son spends her days hanging out with young adults as Teen Librarian at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, a northwest suburb of Chicago. She appreciates all kinds of technology, thoughtful syntax, and fandoms. She is a Gryffindor. You can find her collection of non sequiturs on Twitter (@alicehson).