Creating DIY Escape Rooms

for Your Library



Amber Williams

Spokane County Library District

Kelsey Hudson

Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries

King County Library System

Whitney Winn

Kimberly Rose

Puyallup School District


  • What is an Escape Room?

  • Escape Room Demo: Free the Candy!

  • Hiring Out

  • Breakout Edu

    • School Applications and Use

    • Breakout Edu Kits

  • DIY

    • Build Your Own Kit

    • Public Library Use and Considerations

    • Building a Room

  • Harry Potter Escape Room Experience

  • Questions: 5-10 minutes


Let's take advantage of our collective brilliance

Throughout the session you will be prompted to share your ideas.

Either add them live to our Google Doc or write them
down to add later.

Shared Google Doc:

This site address will appear in slides throughout the webinar

About escape/puzzle rooms

  • SCRAPS, Japan- 2007
  • Crimson Room, video game- 2004
  • Myst, computer game 1993
  • Finding clues to solve puzzles- many games in the history of games

Crimson Room

Puzzle/Escape Rooms

Like Saw (2004), just without the serial killers. Or maybe with. It's your room!


Why Host One?

Escape/Puzzle Rooms promote literacy skills: 

  • Critical Thinking

    • Problem Solving

    • Observation

  • Math
    • Patterns
    • Math math
  • Team cooperation
    • You mean, like social skills?
      • Yup. Those elusive soft skills.


The notion that learning with games is an effective way to learn.


"The popularity of video games is not the enemy of education, but rather a model for best teaching strategies." - Judy Willis MD

Gamification Research

I'm not making this up:

"Video games employ sophisticated systems that introduce information incrementally, forcing users to apply an ever-growing body of knowledge and skill to solve increasingly more complex problems" - James Paul Gee "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy"

Now That You're Convinced, try it!

Free the Candy!

Scenario: You've arrived to your final session of the day, tired and ready to be done. The presenters were nice enough to offer everyone candy, but mean enough to lock it up. You have 10 minutes to decipher the clues needed to open the locks and retrieve the candy. Otherwise, no candy for you!


First Try: We hired out!

  • A local escape room company gave us a "sweet deal" because-
    • They were planning on developing a traveling room anyways!
    • $11 a participant- significantly less then what they charge at their store front ($25-$35 each)
    • Jewel Heist scenario

I don't have any pictures to share

First Try: We hired out!


  • Not everything about the experience was great
    • About $11 a participant- that's a lot!!
    • Long waits between sessions
      • ​​times were based on their experience in setting up their own rooms
    • No pictures, no sharing (I should stop talking now)

Cool picture I couldn't take

First Try: We hired out!



  • Things we learned pretty quick:
    • We knew our audience better
    • We could do this too
      • ​We could even take pictures

Another cool picture I couldn't take

Second Try: We planned our own!



Escape Room: The Backstage Challenge

  • Its humble beginnings are linked to an existing Kelsey creation

What is BreakoutEDU

  • Basically, an Escape Room designed to be used in schools


  • More accurately, it should probably be called "Break-IN" because you're opening the locks to get into something!


  • Games are designed to be 45 minutes long, but they can be modified to whatever time frame you have

Where are the Games?   How do I find them?

Go to:

  • FREE account = access to over 300+ (maybe more!) games in various subject areas/topics
  • Paid Platform access code ($75) = over 800+ games


All games include:

  • Instructions and printables
  • Links to resources and set-up videos


Can create your own games on the site, too!

Physical Games

  • Little Red (2nd)
  • Shot Heard  'Round The World (5th)
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (6th)
  • Reindeer Games (2nd-6th)

Digital Games

Note: If your district is like mine, they may have the digital parts blocked under the students' log in... You can work around this by printing the materials and having the students ONLY enter the lock codes online.

      <DO NOT have answer keys!>

  • Catch the Bus (1st)
  • Soar's Escape (1st)
  • Into the Lion's Den (3rd)

Kinds of Games

Kits - to buy or not to buy


School Library Planning

  • Timing
    • How much time do you have?
    • Will you be running it multiple times in one day?
    • How much time do you have to reset before the next group?
    • Are you doing multiple games in the same week?
      • When are your classes?
      • Do you have enough materials/time to reset?


  • Timer
    • With sound?
    • Without sound?

School Library Planning


  • Capacity
    • How many boxes do you have?
      • Does each group get a box and/or folder?
      • One "class box" and each group has one lock
    • How many in each group?


  • Physical Space - restrictions to use
    • Only materials at tables?
    • Things around the room?

School Library Planning

  • Electronics
    • Will you use computers?
      • One Note - password protected pages
    • Flash drives?
    • QR codes?
    • Digital video/audio? Does it work on your equipment?


  • Can incorporate other resources
    • World Book Online
    • Destiny Library Catalog
    • Search skills

What if they don't finish?

  • It is OK! Reinforce teamwork skills used


  • Keep track of the locks off at a table
    • Numbered list
    • Password tracking sheet --->
  • Restart at same point next week
    • If they have a password tracking sheet you could have them just re-enter passwords

DIY Escape Rooms

  • Build Your Own Kit
  • Public Library Planning 
  • Building a Room
    • Scenario
    • Puzzles
    • Room Flowchart

Build Your Own Kit



Clear Locking Display Box

Fabric/Mesh Bag

Portable Digital Safe

Other Lockable Boxes

Spare Key Hider (Stor-A-Key)

Ski Lock

Key Locks

(Variety of




Letter and/or Number Locks

Black Light  Reactive Pens

Black Light Flashlight



Zip Ties

Things to Know

  • Where to Buy​
    • Lowe's or other hardware stores
      • Especially directional locks
    • Fred Meyer
    • Amazon
    • Dollar Store
      • ​Great for starting out
    • Thrift Stores
      • ​Boxes and other containers!
  • Notes About Locks
    • Purchase ones with override keys if possible
    • ​Word locks
      • Letters will rub off (clear nail polish)

Public Library Planning

  • Timing
    • How much time do you have?
    • Will you be running it multiple times in one day?
  • Capacity
    • Registration or Drop In
    • How many in each group?
  • Physical Space
    • In-Library or Meeting               Room
    • Restrictions to use
  • Target Audience
    • Will you set age limits?

Physical Space

  • How will you restrict access to areas you don't want players in?
  • How will you stage the room?
  • Are there any pieces that need removing before the start?

Physical Space

Building a Room: Scenario

  • What is the general premise of your room?
  • What do players have to do to "win"?


Comic Con is offering up a special meet and greet with the one and only Stan Lee! But only those who can decipher the clues and find the passes in time will get to go. You've got 15 minutes to solve the puzzles and find the passes. No passes, no Stan!

Building a Room: Puzzles

  • Emphasized Text
  • Black Light
  • Coded Message
  • Hidden Objects
  • Patterns:
    • How Many?
    • Which is Missing/Different?



  • Fold-In
  • Assemble
  • Scratch Off
  • Magnet
  • Color Lens
  • Cover Pages/Cipher 

Physical Manipulation


Building a Room: Puzzles


The same type of clue can be used in a variety of different way.

Emphasized Text

Room Flowchart


In the doc, please share ideas for room components

Ideas: Using a mandrake to hide a key in a Harry Potter room.

Shared Google Doc:

All the ideas...

How to adapt it to your library

Harry Potter Escape Room

Auburn Library (King County Library System)

You are a group of Hogwarts students who have been up to no good. You were caught performing magic in front of muggles in a Muggle inhabited area near Hogsmeade and letters calling for your expulsion have been prepared and will be sent to your parents unless you can intercept them from Dumbledore's office before they are sent out through owl post.


One of you has set up a diversion on the other side of the castle that has called Dumbledore away and your sneakoscope tells you that you have 45 minutes to get into his office, figure out how to unlock the chest that contains the letters, and get out.


Room Basics

  • Two sessions, 45 minutes each, with 30 minutes in between
  • Limit of 8 participants each session (though we had 10 in one)
  • Ages teen and up (grade 6+)


  • Teen Librarian (me!)
  • Adult Librarian


Don't go it alone!


In the doc, please share ideas for community partners

Ideas: Local comic book store, larger library system support, Teen Advisory Board

Shared Google Doc:

Harry Potter Room Set-Up


  • DIY printables
  • Small purchases
  • Borrow!

Things to Consider

  • Registration
    • Yes, but allow for flexibility
  • Ages
    • We had mixed kids and adults, which worked
  • Clues
    • Give hints as needed?
    • Printed clues?
    • They can ask for a certain number?
  • Difficulty level
    • We did not make it hard enough/offer enough puzzles
    • Tried to provide levels with hints

Best Practices

  • Ground Rules
    • Off limits
    • Things to know
  • Timer Countdown
    • Visible to participants
    • Practice your room
    • How can you add time if needed?
  • Be flexible
    • Needed to change things in the active room
    • Added an element between sessions

Best Practices 


  • Working with Locks
    • Locks won't open:

      • I tell students that just fiddling with the locks = CHEATING!

      • If you think you have the combo right, but the lock won't open, check with me. Sometimes locks are ornery.

  • Lock Management
    • Reset all locks to default code (and make a mater list of what the code is!)
    • Have students immediately lock the locks and spin the combination
    • Basket for unlocked locks?


Best Practices

  • Tickets vs. Registration
    • Online, Phone or In-Person Registration
    • Drop-In
      • Activities while you wait
  • Age Limits
    • What you need to know
    • What you may need to change

Best Practices 

  • Setting/Resetting the room
    • Space for team to work
      • Pads of paper and pens
        • ​Remember to remove used paper during reset
      • Space to spread out clues
    • Use participants for clean-up!
    • Offer a walk-through at the end
    • Backup/Plan B
      • Something breaks/destroyed
      • Not working as practiced

Best Practices

  • Game Management
    • Do a practice run if possible
    • Keep notes on what did and/or didn't work
    • Update plan immediately following if you plan to use again
  • BreakoutEDU Games
    • 1 copy (original)
    • 1 copy with MY changes (and grade/year)
      • ...and possibly things to try the next time




In the doc, please share best practices you've developed

EXAMPLE: Have activities on hand for people to do as they wait for their turn to solve the escape room

Shared Google Doc:

Where to find all we created (one more time), and other resources!

This doc includes links to other documents with finished and in-development plans for rooms.

Shared Google Doc:


Amber Williams

Spokane County Library District

Kelsey Hudson

Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries

King County Library System

Whitney Winn

Kimberly Rose

Puyallup School District