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This Outdoor Escape Room Brings the Social-Distanced Fun

Photos of the McMillan Memorial Library outdoor escape room

Escape rooms in libraries are popular activities for families, providing free, interactive entertainment for people of all ages. But unfortunately, COVID-19 has put in-person library programs on hold. Some librarians have found creative ways to safely continue the fun during the pandemic, like Sydney Krawiec at Peters Township Public Library in Pennsylvania, who created a Google Doc-based Harry Potter escape room that anyone can play online. Wisconsin’s McMillan Memorial Library has taken a different approach: staff set up a no-touch, outdoor escape room that community members can enjoy while maintaining social distancing.

McMillan started hosting in-person escape rooms back in 2019. Their early efforts—including a Mario-themed escape room and a game based around a janitor’s closet—were a huge hit, so staff had been all set to continue the fun for summer 2020 when the pandemic hit. Still, the McMillan team was determined to find a way to keep their community engaged during COVID, so staffers Karmen Kelly, Alicia Lamont, and Deb Drollinger set about creating a quarantine-friendly escape room.

They found a home for the escape room in a rarely used corridor outside the library, which they’ve decorated using sidewalk chalk. While traditional escape rooms tend to have players manipulate locks and other physical props, this one is touch-free for the safety of participants. Instead, they interact with the game through an online form on their own mobile devices as well as a set of game pieces that they can take home afterward. Their mission? Figure out the relationship between the game pieces and the chalk drawings in the space in order to spell out a word.


The McMillan staff based the escape room around the library’s 2020 summer reading theme, Imagine Your Story. “Since all of our stories are now connected through a common COVID thread, we decided to lean into all of the aspects of the pandemic,” Karmen Kelly told I Love Libraries. “The end result encourages the idea that this isn't the story we would have imagined, but much like the caterpillar in the cocoon, we too can emerge stronger and better than ever. What we do now will allow us to become the proverbial butterfly as we imagine the next chapter of our story.” Fittingly, participants leave the escape room with crafting instructions for how to turn the game pieces they used into a model of a butterfly.

“It's been such a morale booster for everyone involved, especially when we see the families that get to enjoy our creation,” Kelly shared. “In a world filled with masks, social distancing, fear, and confusion, it brings us so much joy to offer a positive team-building activity for our community to enjoy.”

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