written by Alicia Vaandering, Assistant Professor and Student Success Librarian at University of Rhode Island
Library orientations and other introductions to library services feeling stale? Breakout boxes can help gamify traditional library orientations and provide engaging and effective introductions to collections and services for new library users. Similar to escape rooms, breakout boxes require participants to work as a group to solve a series of clues in order to win the game. In September 2021, the URI Libraries piloted a new breakout box game, A Rhody the Ram Breakout Adventure, for incoming first-year, transfer, and international students.
Beginning in Spring 2020, librarians at the URI Libraries began to prepare for the upcoming fall orientation week (O-Week) scheduled for early September at the University of Rhode Island. Our goal was to create an engaging game that would require student participants to collaborate together to use library resources and identify important library services. As Student Success Librarian, I spearheaded this effort and utilized breakout boxes purchased from breakout.edu to design a new game: A Rhody the Ram Breakout Adventure. In this game, participants were given a scenario in which Rhody the Ram, the URI mascot, was lost in the library and needed help answering a series of clues to help him find his way out of the URI Libraries. To solve the clues, participants had to navigate the library website, use the library catalog to find books, and identify library services and collections in order to open a series of locks and win the game.
Library orientation is optional at the University of Rhode Island, and over 50 students chose to attend one of the eight sessions of A Rhody the Ram Breakout Adventure from the wide range of orientation activities offered as part of O-Week. While many students signed up individually, hoping to learn more about the library and meet other new students; a small number signed up with partners or as a small group. Many students celebrated their win by enjoying the candy from their unlocked boxes, taking pictures with provided photo props, asking follow-up questions about the library, and exchanging contact information with the new friends they met while playing the game.
While A Rhody the Ram Breakout Adventure was designed as a library orientation for college students, the use of breakout boxes offers promising potential for library orientations and programming to other library users in and outside of the classroom. Clues can easily be changed and scaled to meet the needs of diverse users who have varying levels of knowledge about library collections and services. The game encourages participants to work through their clues as a group, which allows the supervising librarian to run multiple games simultaneously. Finally, by piggybacking on the success and popularity of escape rooms, breakout boxes provide a unique balance in which participants learn more about the library without feeling like they are attending an instruction session.