I’ve meant to post something about a scavenger hunt and author discussion that I held at my library last month. It went EXTREMELY well, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of Charisse Meloto over at Scholastic. Let me tell you how this extraordinary program came about.

In July, I approached my supervisor about doing a scavenger hunt around the library, based on the popular 39 Clues series. I was originally going to have the scavenger hunt, along with possibly a craft project or two. We scheduled it for the between semester break in December on a weekday evening, because our library tends to be slow during that time period. I contacted Charisse to ask about donated prizes from Scholastic, like backpacks or card packs. In addition to very graciously offering up signed copies of the seventh book when it hits the stores in February, she also broached the subject of having a Skype discussion with one of the authors.

<This was new to me, as our library had never done a Skype discussion before. The author, Peter Lerangis, donated his time, and since Skype to Skype calls are completely free, the program cost almost nothing. I approached my tech support staff immediately, to give them enough time to download the software, work out the logistics of the borrowed video camera (which the library doesn't own), and experiment with this new technology. Around this same time, the School Library Journal published a wonderful article about the benefits of Skype, which gave me some credibility in my proposal.

Publicity had to go out for our newsletter before the author discussion was finalized, so I displayed a large poster at the entrance to the library advertising the addition of the author discussion. Ultimately, we had just over 50 children sign up, 40 of whom showed at the event.

Before the event, I typed up eight different sets of seven clues, each pointing to either a physical place in the library (such as the service elevator), a resource (our foreign language collection), or a specific title (biographies on people mentioned in the books). The last "eighth" clue for each group simply stated to return to the auditorium. I had two staff members help me place them in their proper locations, mainly taped underneath the shelves where the books could be found.

As the kids arrived, I passed out numbers to place them into groups. Kids who came early had some control over who was in their group, while latecomers were assigned to a group. The event began on time. We had arranged through Charisse a test call with Peter Lerangis about two weeks before hand, to make sure everything worked properly. I ended up appreciating that test run, and highly recommend others doing the same, because we did have to fiddle with our microphone settings so he could hear us. He gave a run down of the series and talked for about half an hour, and then we opened the floor to questions from the audience. Be ready for kids to have conversations on practically any topic you could imagine.

After the discussion, we ended the call and the children organized themselves into their groups. I then explained the rules and gave hints about where the clues could be found (under the shelves). The children were also expected to bring all their clues with them, along with a book that the clues would specify. This was to prove to me that they hadn't skipped over any clues.

Upon returning from their scavenger hunt, the kids were given blank Bingo cards and a list of about 70 words to choose from that they could use to fill in their cards. This gave the fast teams something to do while waiting for the slower teams. The winners of the scavenger hunt were announced, and this was when they finally learned that their prize would be a signed copy of book seven. The winners of the two bingo rounds received 39 Clues backpacks as their prizes. Finally, everyone who attended received a 39 Clues card upon leaving the room.

I have a few suggestions for librarians interested in running a similar program:

  • Alert the rest of the staff of what you’re doing, so they can plan breaks and also expect more questions during the time of the hunt. I posted two large signs on the front doors to the library alerting patrons of the event as well, so clues wouldn’t disappear between the time of placement and the start of the hunt.
  • Depending on your internet connection, I would recommend breaking up the interview into 10 minute sessions, then disconnecting the call and reconnecting. My tech person on hand and I both agreed that 10 minutes into the conversation was when the screen and connection would freeze up and eventually forcing the call to be dropped. With planned breaks in the conversation, we think this might be less likely to happen and wouldn’t disrupt the program as much.
  • If you do have kids picking up books and bringing them back to you, don’t pick popular books. New or obscure non-fiction titles would probably work best. Also, it’s best to search for them before placing the clues, so if they did get checked out you can change your clue before hiding them all. That was a concern for the participants when they heard they had to bring a book back, but I could reassure them they were all on the shelf as of an hour ago. And they were all able to find their books.
  • Allocate twice as much time as you think you’ll need for the clue hunt. I thought 20 minutes would be enough time, but there were still a few teams out who would not quit until they had found all their clues.
  • Eight clues seemed like a good number, simply because it spread them out and let the kids get excited, but it wasn’t so long or short that they got bored. Each team received their first clue from me, and their final clue told them to return to the auditorium (our starting point) and check back in with me. It also worked number wise, since there were eight teams.
  • I stressed that if they running or being loud, they would be penalized. When one kid asked what that meant, I told him they’d lose points. We really didn’t have a point system, but if they didn’t bring back the book or ALL eight clues, then they were bumped down a place in terms of rankings. For instance, the second group back didn’t have all their clues, so they got bumped to third place and third place became number two.
  • We assigned teams at the door, so if kids came early enough and wanted to work together, we were able to accomodate them. As it got later, it was whatever group you were assigned. We didn’t fill the teams to capacity, and instead only handed out numbers so five kids were on a team. That way, if we had any late comers, they wouldn’t be on a team by themselves and could be added to an existing team.
  • The Bingo game was at the end of the scavenger hunt. I provided each kid with a blank Bingo card and a list of words they could use. Then they filled in their bingo card. This provided the faster groups something to do, and it also meant I didn’t have to create 50 unique Bingo cards prior to the event. There was no free space in the center.
  • Use your best judgement when and how to help the teams. One team could not find their first clue for whatever reason, and finally I just read it to them from the master list of clues I had (highly recommended and very beneficial).

All in all, I had a lot of comments from parents and kids alike expressing how much fun they had. One girl said we needed to do something like this for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Parents were impressed with the clues and amazed at the different collections we had to offer, with one dad remarking that we should sponsor an event like this for the adults. And amazingly enough, I think a majority of our participants were fifth and sixth graders, who are notoriously hard to please and cater to in our library.

EDIT: I did a second 39 Clues program a while back and talked about it here. It was a slightly different format involving educational stations for the kids to rotate around. I thought I’d provide a link because it doesn’t seem to be getting the same kind of love as this one and the post with my first set of questions. Please feel free to comment on how your own 39 Clues programs go!