November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

National Library Lock-in Event Features Authors, Games, and Minecraft

Homer Public Library

Teens participating in the lock-in at Homer (AK) Public Library.

Teens from libraries across the continent came together to play and compete online in the annual National Teen Library Lock-in on August 1. It was a Friday night, when most public libraries are usually closed, but for the past few years libraries across the continent, large and small, have opened their doors for the event. Most years, participants chat virtually with young adult authors, try their hand at crafts, and compete in games like Minute to Win It. This time, the planners added another component—Minecraft.

While teens huddled in front of computers is nothing new in public libraries, many are typically navigating fantastical worlds, building new structures, and avoiding near-death on their own. This year, lock-in organizers decided to expand the collaborative activities associated with the event and include a continent-wide Minecraft session, encouraging joint media engagement. With more than 70 libraries planning to participate, this was to be no small task.

The idea was born last winter as I (Haines) was searching for new ways to virtually connect area teens with other libraries in real time at Homer Public Library. Homer, Alaska is, after all, a relatively remote place. Digital technology offers a landscape where remote connections are becoming easier and possibilities for collaboration are almost endless.

During a previous lock-in, attendees tried playing Wii games online with patrons from other libraries, but the technology was awkward. Since Homer teens are also Minecraft fans, I thought it might be fun to try again, this time with a multi-player game that is popular and a good fit for libraries that offer programs aimed to foster STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills. I presented the idea to the 2014 National Teen Lock-in coordinators, Tinna Mills of Chippewa River District Library, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and Nikki Branam of Cleveland Bradley County Public Library (TN), who quickly embraced this new opportunity.

National Teen Lock-oinThe National Teen Library Lock-in grew out of an event coordinated by San Diego County Library‘s Jennifer Lawson in 2011 and has become a popular celebration that connects teens across the country. Each year, librarians volunteer their time to coordinate group activities like virtual author visits and multi-library contests in addition to planning the specific events at their own location. An event wiki is filled with event suggestions, contest guidelines, and Q & A between librarians. There is no one way to participate. Some sites hosted all night activity-rich events while others chose to open up their libraries for teens to play Minecraft.

It was obvious from day one of planning that more than just enthusiastic librarians were needed to make a national Minecraft event happen. Enter Jack Makled, computer support technician also at Chippewa River District Library. Makled enthusiastically took over the setup of the rented servers and their maintenance during the event so 100 players could explore the pre-generate Pirate world simultaneously during the lock-in. (The lock-in also included a Hunger Games–type world which allowed 30 players at a time to compete in a survival/combat game.) Makled also developed a website for librarians new to the sandbox indie game (Minecraft in Libraries) to answer the pre-event questions.

While Makled, myself, and the many other lock-in librarians were busy managing the servers and their own events, volunteer administrative assistants energetically joined the effort to lead the players in building challenges and imaginative adventures and helped keep social aspects of the game in check. Collaboration, improving technology, enthusiastic librarians, volunteers, and teens made for a successful night.

If any part of this collaborative event sounds like fun to you, planning the 2015 lock-in event will begin this winter. To participate or if you have questions, contact lock-in coordinators.

Claudia Haines is a youth services librarian at Homer Public Library (AK); Jack Makled is a computer support technician at Chippewa River District Library (MI).

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