Fun with Information Literacy Games at Your Library

LOTRAt the NDLA conference in September, I attended a session called “Make Learning Fun: Simple Information Literacy Game for All Ages” presented by Julie Reitan, the director at the Minot Air Force Base Library. I was so impressed with Julie’s presentation that I asked if she would be willing to write a guest post for our blog. She graciously provided this overview. I hope you will be as inspired by her ideas as I was!

Information literacy games are a fun, hands-on way to teach library skills or to end an information literacy session and can be more interesting and more educational than a basic scavenger hunt. At the Minot Air Force Base Library, we have provided twelve information literacy games for a variety of age groups over the last three years either as a stand-alone program or a part of a larger program. We’ve learned a lot in the process and developed a basic strategy that can be used in just about any type of library.

The essential method for the type of information literacy game the Minot AFB Library has done is what I like to call the “envelope and clue” system. Participants are given an envelope with an introductory note and a clue to the location of a second envelope which contains a clue to the location of a third envelope and so on. Depending on the premise of the game, the envelopes might also contain clues to solve a mystery or pieces of a secret code or puzzle in addition to the clue pointing to the next envelope. The envelope location clues that we use are usually the call number of the book or other library material that contains the next envelope, a title that must be looked up in the OPAC in order to find the item which contains the next envelope, a piece of the library map with an “x” marking the location of the next envelope, or a description of the location such as “the next clue is hidden among big books of maps” for a clue hidden in the atlas stand.


We have done games with two basic kinds of set-up. One is the multi-path set up which is a traditional set time program where all the participants arrive simultaneously and are broken up in to teams. Each team has its own set of clues. This is the set-up we’ve used the most often as it can be a part of an information literacy session or a larger program and is particularly good for kids, but the disadvantages of using it are that it requires a lot of set up time to create all the different sets of clues, it ties up a lot of library materials (say you have 5 sets of clues each of which uses 5 library materials; that’s 25 library materials that can’t be used from whenever the game is created to the end of the program), and, depending on the circumstances, it can be difficult to estimate just how many participants will show up.

The second type of set-up is a more passive program where participants are encouraged to come anytime during a day (or afternoon or any other range of time), and there is only one set of clues. The Base Library has used this set-up twice, both times for murder mystery games and both times mainly with adults. The advantages of this set up are that it can accommodate any number of participants and requires much fewer materials, but the disadvantages are that one team can mess up the game for everyone else and that the clues must remain in situ, so the participants must record them in some way (we have found that encouraging participants to photograph them with their smartphones or a library iPad works best) to avoid having to backtrack to check details. When multiple groups of participants are working on the mystery at the same time, they might cheat a bit by watching each other, but it generally seems to work.


The murder mystery seems to be particularly successful as a program for adults but requires a great deal of creativity in creating the mystery narrative. Each envelope contains one or more clues to solving the murder as well as the clue to the location of the next envelope.

The first murder mystery that the Base Library did involved a murder that supposedly happened in the library with six suspects named after the suspects in the game Clue. Some suspects had motives; some suspects had alibis. The suspect who had a motive but no alibi was the murderer. The motives and alibis were indicated by pieces of physical evidence that where divided among the envelopes. The second murder mystery was more literary and involved both pieces of physical evidence (letters, etc.) and pieces of narrative in the second person as the game-player took on the role of Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. We found that giving participants a chart of the suspects that they could use to track motives and alibis was very helpful.

As coming up with entire stories for each of several sets of clues would be very difficult and time consuming, the Base Library’s multi-path set-up games have tended to be simpler and more like treasure hunts. Examples have included a kidnapped stuffed animal plot where pieces of the ransom note (in code) were in each envelope and the final clue gave the book with the cipher in it and a hang-man style series of dashes to help participants put the words in the right order, another where the final clue lead to the notepad that the pet-knapper used to write a note (including the location where the animal was stashed) to his accomplice which could be uncovered by rubbing the notepad with a crayon, a quest to find the missing Dwarven rings from Lord of the Rings, a pirate treasure hunt, a quest to put together pieces of a missing musical manuscript, and so on.


Learning outcomes apart from the basic use of the library and locations of particular items can be incorporated by requiring participants to accomplish an additional step before receiving the next envelope location clue. One game at the Base Library required participants to find a particular journal article and give a piece of information (like the first page number) to a member of library staff to receive their next envelope. In another game, participants were lead to a large card with three flaps with multiple-choice answers on top of them. Under each flap was a call number, and under the flap with the correct answer on it was the call number for the book containing the next clue.

You can create your own information literacy game using any of the ideas above. They are fun for both participants and library staff and represent a different kind of library program.


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