Murder in the Stacks: Creating a Library Mystery Night
Florida Library Association 2012 Conference
Ramona Miller-Ridlon, Nance Lempinen-Leedy, Diana Matthews
Why did we host a Library Mystery Night?
With literacy being a key learning outcome at Santa Fe College, the library is in the position to help students fulfill this outcome. Many professors bring their classes to the library for information literacy instruction sessions, but this does not reach everyone. The library has attempted to hold drop-in workshops before, but attendance was sparse. The library was looking for a way to introduce students to the library that would be fun for the students and the library staff.
How was the Mystery Night arranged?
We decided to base the mystery night on the game of CLUE ®. The library would present the players with a fictional murder. Players would receive clues that would lead them to a particular place in the library where they would find another clue that took them somewhere else, etc. With each clue they would get a player card. When they had found all the clues, they would have all the cards but one. The remaining card would be their killer. We have students break into groups of 5 and do the hunts as a team. We find this easier than creating 25 separate hunts.
How many Mystery Nights did you do?
The first year we decided to host 2 events, an evening one and an afternoon on on the third Thursday of the Fall semester. Attendance was so good that the next 2 years we had 2 events for the students and added one for the sports team. Our attendance has grown every year.
What Mysteries did you do?
The library has used the following themes for our Mystery Nights:
- Who murdered Omaha Smith? The fictional head-librarian, Omaha Smith had been murdered. The librarians all played the different suspects who may have murdered him.
- Literary Murderers - The library was hosting the annual ball for Killers from Literature when Lady MacBeth was found murdered! The players had to help Sherlock Holmes find the killer. The librarians played such characters as Lizzie Borden, Madea, the Queen of Hearts, etc.
- Literary Mysteries - Each group had to follow a famous mystery story and determine who the culprit was. Each set of clues followed one particular story such as A Rose for Emily, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Murder on the Orient Express, etc.
What did you do for prizes?
The Library worked with Student Activities to find donations for the prizes. Over the years, local banks and apartment complexes have donated money for the large prizes. We have also gotten gift certificates from local restaurants and bookstores to use as door prizes.
We give a certificate to everyone who completes a Mystery Night hunt. Many instructors give extra credit points to students with one of these certificates.
How did you publicize the event?
The event was advertised in the college newspaper, on the library's website, the college website and with posters around campus. Librarians also contacted faculty in their departments suggesting that this might be a good idea for extra credit.
What skills did you cover in the Hunts?
The students had to do the following things in order to solve the mystery:
- Find the Café
- Find the Reference Desk
- Find the Copy Room
- Check out a Reserve Item
- Find a periodical
- Find a book using the catalog
- Find a video
- Find information from a reference book
- Find a journal article in an online database
What did you learn?
- Keep it simple! The first year we had students collect suspect and weapon cards. This ended up being too much to keep track of. The following years, we only had suspect cards.
- Get everyone involved! This is a lot of work for just one person. This was a library-wide event, with all staff members helping to write the hunts, play characters, take pictures, advertise, etc.
- Be very organized! Over the three years we have found that making lists and scheduling have become more and more important.
- Expect no-shows and people with out a reservation. Since we cap each event at 25 people we require people to register. Each time we have had people who registered and did not show. But at each event we have had several people who had not registered. We have learned to cap registrations at 25, but prepare for 30.
- Expect noise! With people running from one clue to the next, these events can get very loud. We have taken to posting signs warning users that during the events, the library might not be as quiet as they would like.
- Have extra prizes. Although we ask people to form groups of 5, we have had times where a group of 6 won. Any leftover prizes can be used as door prizes.
Did you meet your objective?
Over the last three years, 206 people have completed the Library Mystery Night. These patrons are now familiar with the layout of the library, the Reserve Desk, the Library Catalog, the Library Databases and other library services. We have had many students tell us that this was their first time in the library. We could tell by watching the students work the hunts that many of them learned about the library as they went along. We have gotten encouraging feedback from faculty and many students ask if we will be doing more Mystery Nights in the future.
The Mystery Nights have also been a good Public Relations move. Because of the Mystery Night events we are seen by many as more approachable and more "fun." The library is viewed as a comfortable, fun place to be.